Murphy signs law impacting staffing, addressing isolation at long-term care facilities

Union head Silva calls bills most meaningful pieces of nursing home legislation N.J. has seen in decades

Gov. Phil Murphy took another step Friday toward reforming the long-term care industry by signing bills that mandate specific staff-to-resident ratios and address social isolation issues.

Bill S2712 requires minimum direct care staff-to-resident ratios in long-term care facilities. Additionally, the legislation establishes the special task force on direct care workforce retention and recruitment. Bill S2785 requires long-term care facilities to institute policies that prevent social isolation of residents, addressing issues experienced by long-term care residents and their families as a result of prohibitions and limitations on visitation during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Sadly, too many nursing homes are run by companies more interested in making money than protecting patients,” Murphy said. “These long-sought reforms will help bring accountability to the industry and protect residents, staff, and family members with a loved one living in a long-term care facility. I am proud to have worked with our partners in organized labor, health care advocates and legislative sponsors to finally implement safe staffing ratios in our nursing homes, as well as other long overdue reforms.”

Bill S2712 establishes minimum direct care staff-to-resident ratios in nursing homes:

  • One certified nursing assistant to every eight residents for the day shift;
  • One direct care staff member (RN, LPN or CNA) to every 10 residents for the evening shift;
  • One direct care staff member (RN, LPN, or CNA) to every 14 residents for the night shift.

Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli, a registered nurse, said addressing staff issues was a key.

“Staff caring for our most vulnerable residents in long-term care settings are the backbone of these facilities,” she said. “As a nurse, I know there is no more important role than as a caregiver and all of those working in these facilities are health care heroes. We have to support this workforce and give them an opportunity to grow and advance in their careers, so it is not only a more rewarding job, but also results in improved care.”

Sen. Brian Stack (D-Jersey City), one of the primary sponsors of S2712, agreed that fixing staff issues was paramount.

“New Jersey got an ‘F’ rating and was ranked 43 out of 50 in direct care staffing hours per nursing home resident,” he said. “These gaping problems have become even more apparent since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is unacceptable and we all know we can do better.

“These are our parents and grandparents, and, soon, they will be us. This law will ensure that every resident in our nursing homes receives the care and attention we all deserve.”

Sen. Vin Gopal (D-Ocean Twp.), another primary sponsor, said addressing the isolation issue was important, too.

“One of the debilitating effects of the spread of the coronavirus has been the heightened sense of isolation it has placed on residents of long-term care facilities,” he said. “There is little doubt that the limits on physical visitation have had a harmful effect on residents’ mental and physical well-being.

“Many residents in these facilities are already susceptible to loneliness and potential isolation. Facilities should act now to implement plans to prevent such isolation in the event of a public health emergency and be able to mitigate its worst effects on both residents and their loved ones.”

The bills require long-term care facilities, as a condition of licensure, to implement policies to prevent social isolation of residents.

The bills are intended to address the tremendous strain experienced by long-term care residents and families of residents as a result of the prohibition of and limitation on visitation during the pandemic. It requires facilities to create social isolation prevention policies to authorize residents of the facility to engage in in-person contact, communications and religious and recreational activities with other facility residents and with family members, friends and other external support systems, except when prohibited, restricted or limited.

It further requires policies to consider means to promote virtual visitation and resident recreational activities during periods where in-person engagement is limited or prohibited and requires facilities to maintain the appropriate technology to implement that mandate.

The bills also establish the special task force on direct care workforce retention and recruitment, which will evaluate job supports and incentives, training opportunities, wages and benefits, educational initiatives and certification reciprocity rules.

The task force will be required to submit a report to the governor and the Legislature within one year of its first meeting, which must occur within 180 days of signing.

Milly Silva, executive vice president of 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, said the bills are the most meaningful pieces of nursing home legislation the state has seen in decades.

“This law will fundamentally improve standards of quality care in nursing homes by ensuing that facilities hire sufficient frontline staff to meet the basic needs of residents,” she said. “We commend Gov. Murphy and our legislative leadership for taking this step, which establishes New Jersey as a national model for compassionate staffing levels in nursing homes.”

Long-term care facilities and veterans’ homes have been two of the hardest-hit areas of the state’s COVID-19 response, especially in the opening months.

Last week, Murphy announced that Col. Dr. Lisa Hou will become interim adjutant general and commissioner of the department.

Hou, the current DMAVA deputy adjutant general, replaces Maj. Gen. Jemal Beale. Also out are the heads of the two veterans’ homes: Matthew Schottlander in Paramus and Elizabeth Heedles in Menlo Park.