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Weinberg Bill To Require Medical Examiners To Talk To Families When Patient Dies In Long-Term Care Approved In Senate

Bill Would Give Family Members Opportunity To Contribute Info To Investigations Over Circumstances Around Death

TRENTON – A bill sponsored by Senator Weinberg which would require county medical examiners’ offices to reach out to the family members of patients who die in long-term care facilities, psychiatric hospitals and other care settings in order to get all pertinent information to conduct a thorough and complete investigation of the circumstances surrounding the patient’s death was approved by the Senate today by a vote of 38-0.

“It’s always a tragic situation when family members have to mourn the passing of one of their own who has been taken too soon,” said Senator Weinberg, D-Bergen, and Vice Chairwoman of the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee. “However, when those loved ones are remanded to the care of a State psychiatric hospital or long-term care facility, the State has a responsibility to tread very carefully, in order to make sure that the individual’s death isn’t symptomatic of a larger institutional problem. In those instances, the county medical examiner has a responsibility to reach out to the next of kin to uncover any relevant information surrounding the individual’s untimely death.”

The bill, S-101, would, in the event of a resident’s death, require licensed long-term care facilities, State or county psychiatric hospitals, facilities for the developmentally disabled or facilities for persons with traumatic brain injury to notify the county medical examiner’s office, in addition to the current requirement to notify the person’s next of kin, of the death. The facility would be required to provide contact information for the next-of-kin to the medical examiner, and would require the medical examiner’s office to follow up with the next-of-kin in order to uncover any information which might be relevant to an investigation into the death of the facility resident. The bill would also require the medical examiner’s office to notify the next-of-kin if there is a need on the part of the medical examiner to perform an autopsy or post-mortem examination.

Senator Weinberg noted that the bill was prompted by the death of Danielle Gruskowski, who suffered from Rett Syndrome and died at a group home in Edison in 2002 when staff at the home failed to call 911 in response to a fever she developed the evening prior to her death. As a result of Danielle’s death, the State enacted “Danielle’s Law,” which Senator Weinberg co-sponsored while in the Assembly, and which imposes fines on certain facility staffers who fail to act in the event of a medical emergency. Senator Weinberg’s legislation today would address concerns that Danielle’s family had about her final hours, and the investigation into her death.

“The State of New Jersey owes a debt of gratitude to the Gruskowski family, which has taken an unthinkable tragedy and turned it into an opportunity for advocacy on behalf of people living in institutional settings and long-term care facilities,” said Senator Weinberg. “When a family entrusts their loved one to a long-term care facility or State or county psychiatric facility, they expect, in addition to top-notch care, that facility staff will do everything in their power to protect their family member from harm. In cases where negligence or wrong-doing may be suspected in a resident’s death, the family has to have an opportunity for closure, and an avenue to share information which might be useful to the investigation into their loved one’s death.”

The bill now heads to the Assembly for concurrence with Senate amendments.

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