FILE - NJ nursing home, seniors, covid 5-8-2020

Mary Mack (right), a resident of senior housing, is tested for coronavirus infection May 8, 2020, in Paterson, New Jersey.

(The Center Square) – Two New Jersey legislative committees this week advanced bipartisan bills that aim to improve services to New Jersey’s older population.

The Department of Health will be required to toughen scaling actions and penalties against long-term care facilities with a history of state and federal violations, under a bill approved by the Assembly Aging and Senior Services Committee.

“Over the last three inspection cycles, less than 100 of New Jersey’s nursing homes were fined for deficiencies, but about 41 percent of facilities, about 150, in our state have very-below average and below-average health inspection ratings,” said Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle, D-Bergen, chair of the Aging and Senior Services Committee and one of the bill’s sponsors. “Clearly, noncompliance issues are not being accurately reported or facilities are not being penalized enough to make improvements.”

The bill would require the DOH to conduct a licensure survey every two years of care facilities that have three or more violations every year for the next four years. Sanctions would be enhanced if the facility receives multiple violations for the same action or if the violation is due to an issue with infection control. The fines would be higher if the actions caused health problems with residents or staff members. The facility would face license suspension, termination or revocation or will be required to move residents elsewhere and no longer accept new admissions. Nursing homes could face court action.

Long-term care facilities’s would also be required to fill monthly and quarterly financial information with the Department of Health.

A Long-Term Care Facility Advisory Council would be created to oversee the inspections and take public comments, according to the bill.

The bill is in response to complaints about LTCs and reports that families were not notified about their loved ones during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It was unconscionable that families were not receiving information about their loved ones in nursing homes,” said Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi, R-Bergen, a co-sponsor. “Hopefully we will never see anything like it again with oversight that is more consistent and with better reporting in place.”

The Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee approved a bill sponsored by Sen. Robert Singer, R-Ocean and Sen. Nellie Pou, D-Passaic, that looks to create a minimum Medicaid reimbursement rate for adult day care services.

“With more support, these facilities are able to offer more services and personalized care, which can include nursing, nutrition, medication management, and both physical and behavioral therapy,” Singer said.