TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg and Senator Nilsa Cruz-Perez to improve oversight of dementia care homes and better ensure the proper care of individuals living in the facilities is now law.
“Dementia care group homes should be safe options for supervised care especially since these residents experience unique challenges and may be more vulnerable to risk of injury,” said Senator Weinberg (D-Bergen). “Unfortunately, we have seen instances of health and safety violations at some of these facilities. By moving their regulation under the Department of Health, we will create greater oversight of the health and safety conditions of dementia group homes and enhance protections for residents.”
Under previous law, dementia care homes were licensed and regulated by the Department of Community Affairs as boarding homes and, as a result, did not receive the same level and type of scrutiny as health care facilities regulated by the Department of Health. The law (S1145) moves the regulation of these homes under the state Department of Health.
“Residents in dementia care homes are medically compromised and receive professional care so requiring state oversight in line with what is required at health care facilities is an important change. This law will provide for improved regulation of these homes, assuring that the buildings are properly constructed, the atmosphere is appropriate for dementia patients and the health, safety and welfare of patients are protected,” said Senator Nilsa Cruz-Perez (D-Camden, Gloucester).
The bill was introduced after a series of citations and safety lapses at a chain of dementia care group homes formerly known as Potomac Homes and now operating as Memory Care Living. The Record uncovered multiple incidents in which residents had wandered out of unlocked doors or gates, one in which a woman broke a hip climbing out a second-story window, and others in which State inspectors faulted the homes for lax responses to residents’ medical needs. The Record reported in June that state regulators have cited additional violations by Memory Care Living and fined the group home operators more than $20,000 for failing to comply with staffing requirements, though the operator claims to be in compliance. Memory Care Living operates 13 homes in eight municipalities throughout Bergen County.
The law will prohibit a person from operating or advertising a facility as a dementia care home without a valid license issued by DOH for the operation of that facility, or from advertising a dementia care home as another type of health care facility licensed by DOH. It directs the Commissioner of Health to establish standards to protect the health, safety, and welfare of dementia care home residents, including standards that are designed to meet the particular needs of persons with dementia. It also requires standards to ensure that each dementia care home is constructed and operated in a manner that will protect the health, safety, and welfare of its residents and at the same time preserve and promote a homelike atmosphere appropriate to these facilities. The law also sets forth the rights of dementia care home residents and requires a dementia care home operator to ensure written notice of these rights is given to every resident upon admittance to the facility and to each resident upon request.
The Assembly approved the bill 60-9-7 last year. The Senate approved it by a vote of 30-8 in June. The governor signed the bill Monday. The bill takes effect on the first day of the seventh month following enactment, but authorizes the Commissioners of Health and Community Affairs to take prior administrative action as necessary for its implementation.