Weinberg Bill To Require Medical Examiners To Talk To Families When Patient Dies In Long-Term Care Receives Final Legislative Approval

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 Assembly today by a vote of 79-0, receiving final legislative approval.

“When a family loses a loved one, it’s always tragic,” said Senator Weinberg, D-Bergen, and Vice Chairwoman of the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee. “However, when that family has questions about the last hours of their loved one in one of the State’s long-term care facilities or psychiatric hospitals, they deserve answers. This bill allows family members to share information that they feel is important to a medical examiner’s investigation, to ensure that they are guaranteed whatever justice might be achieved in the face of their loved one’s 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.

“My heart and deepest sympathy goes out to the Gruskowski family,” said Senator Weinberg. “This family should never have been put in a position to advocate on behalf of necessary reforms to safeguard vulnerable patients remanded to the State’s care, but they are using their tragedy to keep others from experiencing a similar loss of a loved one. Thanks to their advocacy, New Jersey will be in a better position to make sure that the institutional failings which led to Danielle’s death are addressed, and that we do a better job on behalf of those individuals in long-term and institutional care in the Garden State.”

The bill now heads to the Governor to be signed into law.

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