Senior living operators would be required to develop plans to prevent residents from becoming isolated during public emergencies, and per-diem healthcare workers would be able to accrue paid sick leave, under bills being considered in New Jersey.

Senate Bill 2785, sponsored by state Senate Majority Conference Leader Vin Gopal (D-Long Branch) would require the state Department of Health to implement and oversee an “Isolation Prevention Project” in assisted living communities, personal care homes, residential healthcare facilities, dementia care homes and nursing homes during public emergencies. At a minimum, such projects would require facilities to adopt and implement 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.”

It was one of a series of bills cleared Monday by the New Jersey Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee to address recommendations in a report from a third-party consultant to address improving care in long-term care facilities. The bill is one of two in the series that apply specifically to assisted living.

“The importance to be physically distant during this pandemic does not imply we need to be completely isolated from those we love,” Gopal said in a statement. “It is critically important that residents in long-term care facilities continue to engage in in-person contact and communication with other facility residents, family members, friends, and any other support systems they need during this public emergency.”

The bill states that if in-person contact and communication is physically impossible or is deemed to pose a danger to the facility’s residents because of certain factors or a disease outbreak, then residents must adhere to proper social distancing guidelines, but proper technology will be in place to allow socializing in a safe manner. 

The sick leave bill, Senate Bill 2786, sponsored by state Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen), applies to assisted living communities, dementia care homes, comprehensive personal care homes, residential healthcare facilities and nursing homes.

The package of bills seeks to improve conditions, preparation and outcomes in New Jersey’s long-term care facilities. Several of the bills include recommendations outlined in Manatt Health’s report on long-term care in the state and focus on improving conditions and response at these facilities. Manatt Health was hired by Gov. Phil Murphy to develop a short- and long-term strategy to improve the coronavirus response at the state’s 371 nursing homes.

Other bills in the package apply only to nursing homes, boarding houses, home health aides and other long-term care facilities and address issues including maintaining appropriate temperatures in buildings, establishing minimum wage requirements, making technology available to residents, establishing a Long-Term Care Emergency Operations center in the Department of Health to serve as a centralized command center for infectious disease outbreaks, and establishing a temporary rate adjustment to support COVID-19 response efforts. 

The bills were part of a legislative reform package from the New Jersey Assembly Aging and Senior Services Committee and the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee.

Last week, Murphy committed $155 million to help the state’s nursing homes increase wages for certified nursing assistants and frontline caregivers who provide direct care to residents.

Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen), indicated that additional legislation is forthcoming.

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In other coronavirus-related news:

  • Asbury Heights, a continuing care retirement community in suburban Pittsburgh, credits knocking down its COVID-19 cases by more than 92% to early testing and segregating residents with the disease. Just fewer than 400 people live at the CCRC. Universal testing limited outbreaks in two nursing units, and rapid testing identified 15 residents who tested positive after a worker presented symptoms. 
  • Staff members and residents at the Wingate Residences in Needham, MA, independent and assisted living community share what it was like to face the coronavirus outbreak day in and day out. According to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, residents over the age of 70 accounted for 86% of the state’s COVID-19 deaths.
  • Two Walnut Creek, CA, Las Lomas High School seniors created a 12-minute video, “A Short History of Walnut Creek,” to provide a virtual tour of some of their hometown’s well-known sites. They created a virtual day in town video and sent it to about 25 retirement and assisted living communities in the area. Both said they would like to volunteer in person at a retirement home once the pandemic is over. 
  • A volunteer group of college students known as ASEZ donated handmade works of art to Brookdale Senior Living community in Loma Linda, CA. ASEZ members from Victor Valley College, Antelope Valley College, Cal Poly Pomona and College of the Canyons produced more than 60 paintings and drawings individually packaged and donated to the facility. 
  • A handwritten sign placed outside Bayview Manor, an assisted living facility in Searsport, ME, in early spring asked drivers to honk their horns in support of seniors during the pandemic. Although the signs have come down and the city erected an electronic sign asking people “not” to honk, four months later the honking persists, much to the chagrin of neighbors. Drivers are still beeping — sometimes at a rate of 144 honks an hour — as residents of the facility line the side of the road in chairs and wave back. Neighbors are begging drivers to stop.
  • Members of a Waco, TX, breakfast club rallied around a longtime member to make her 100th birthday special, despite COVID-19 keeping her close to her independent living facility. Neva Herring, a resident of Lake Shore Estates, is part of the women’s group called “The Cluckers.” The women planned a surprise drive-by parade as Herring hit the century mark.