It’s understandable that some members of the general public and lay media may not know the differences between senior living and nursing homes, LeadingAge New Jersey & Delaware President and CEO James McCracken says.

Unless they’ve had a loved one who needed care or services, they’d have no personal reason to. Additionally, he says, people may be more familiar with the concept of nursing homes compared with senior living communities because nursing homes have been around a lot longer.

Late last year, Argentum President and CEO James Balda told me that the COVID-19 pandemic “brought to light how misunderstood the senior living industry truly is.” Not just be the general public and members of the general media, but by federal lawmakers as well.

“We spent countless hours educating reporters and policymakers on the differences that exist among long-term care settings,” he said, adding that the effort helped operators secure more funding to fight the coronavirus (although more is needed).

It appears that the senior living industry remains misunderstood, at least by some, however. If you follow the coverage of long-term care in the lay press as I do, you’ve seen multiple articles about the support that rocker Nils Lofgren, famous for being part of the E Street Band that backs Bruce Springsteen, and his wife Amy reportedly have thrown behind a bill under consideration by the New Jersey Legislature.

S 3032 would require the state to assess the nursing home infection control and prevention infrastructure and then develop an improvement plan that considers single-resident rooms; heating, ventilating, air conditioning and refrigeration systems; negative pressure rooms; and design and construction standards for new or renovated facilities, among other factors.

The Lofgrens, according to media reports, decided to support the legislation due to their experience with Amy’s mother, a long-term care resident who tested positive for COVID-19.

But here’s the thing: Amy Lofgren’s mother lived in an assisted living and memory care community, not a nursing home. The legislation the Lofgrens are reportedly supporting, if enacted as written, will not affect the community where her mother lived or other senior living communities. It is about nursing homes.

LeadingAge New Jersey & Delaware did not comment on this specific matter. But the organization does support the legislation, with a caveat, according to Vice President Meagan Glaser: “that the state budget and reimbursement rates for long-term care facilities be adjusted to support infrastructure improvements, new infection control mandates, etc.”

Members, McCracken says, “want to have modern buildings with the latest technologies to keep staff and residents safe,” and typically have 10-year capital improvement plans to accomplish such things.

More discussion is needed about what would come after the study required under S 3032, however, he says. “Does the state have a funding mechanism or source so providers can convert to private rooms and update mechanical systems and all that kind of stuff?” McCracken says.

In nursing homes where most residents are Medicaid beneficiaries, he adds, “funding sources have to keep up with those demands.” McCracken also notes that nursing home residents who pay out-of-pocket still are on fixed incomes. “Any time we increase the cost of living or doing business, that has to get passed on somewhere,” he says.

Another bill under consideration by the Garden State Legislature could affect senior living if passed. S 3031 would require the state to develop an infection prevention course for registered nurses and certified nurse aides who work in long-term care facilities, review the nursing curriculum and encourage nurses to enroll in post-acute care residency programs, determine whether the curriculum should be modified to better prepare them to work in the field, and review the curriculum for certified nurse aides and work with the long-term care industry to develop a pilot program with standards for their professional advancement.

LeadingAge New Jersey & Delaware supports that bill, too, McCracken says.

“We feel it’s important that staff in long-term care communities have the proper training they need to be safe and to provide exceptional resident care,” he says. “We support CNAs being able to advance their skill sets and receive additional training. And we want our nurses to be able to be up to date on the latest technologies for preventing the spread of disease.”

McCracken expects that both bills, developed after a study by the Manatt Group, will pass.

Advocacy by people such as the Lofgrens no doubt has helped draw attention to the nursing home bill. But they and the lay press reporters covering the issue appear to be barking up the wrong tree, expecting senior living changes to occur from it.