Gov. Phil Murphy
Gov. Phil Murphy

A bill requiring long-term care facilities, including assisted living communities, to prevent social isolation in residents was signed into law Friday in New Jersey.

Senate Bill 2785 requires the state Department of Health to implement and oversee an “Isolation Prevention Project” in long-term care facilities. It is one of two bills signed by Gov. Phil Murphy last week following recommendations from the Manatt Health report on long-term care in the state released in June.

A second bill signed by Murphy establishes minimum ratios for the number of certified nurse aides in nursing homes.

At a minimum, the Isolation Prevention Project bill requires assisted living communities and other long-term care settings to have written isolation prevention plans and “have appropriate technology, staff and other capabilities in place to prevent the facility’s residents from becoming isolated during public emergencies.”

Those plans must include ways for residents to engage in in-person contact, communications, and religious and recreational activities with other residents, family members, friends and other external support systems, except when restricted or prohibited. 

“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,” said Sen. Vin Gopal (D-Long Branch), sponsor of the bill. “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.”

Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen), chair of the Assembly Aging and Senior Services Committee and a co-sponsor of the bill, said that although precautions were intended to protect the physical health of residents, sustained social isolation has taken a toll on their mental health.

“Eight months into this crisis, we’ve learned social distancing doesn’t have to mean isolation or loneliness,” Huttle said. “Whether it be a natural disaster or a public health crisis, we must ensure that residents in these facilities can stay connected to their families and loved ones remotely when in-person visits are not feasible.”

Primary co-sponsors of the bill include Sens. Angela V. McKnight (D-Jersey City), Carol A. Murphy (D-Mount Laurel) and Nellie Pou (D-Passaic).