Advocates: N.J. measure would expose ‘filthy conditions’ in boarding homes

    Legislation pending in the New Jersey Assembly would require officials to post inspection reports for boarding homes and residential health care facilities across the state.

    There are about 1,000 such facilities in New Jersey that have come under increased scrutiny for poor conditions. Many of them house people with severe mental illnesses.

    Boarding homes and residential health care facilities become catchall places for the elderly, people in financial trouble, and those struggling with addiction and mental illness. They range in size from just a few bedrooms to hundreds of residents. And many are in bad shape.

    “Some of them are absolutely unacceptable, filthy. They are just not taken care of the way they should be,” said Assemblywoman Celeste Riley who sponsored the legislation. The bill would help people make decisions about where they could send a loved one in need, said Riley, D-Cumberland.

    Boarding homes and residential health care facilities are privately run businesses that are inspected by the Department for Community Affairs, but the inspection records are currently not available online. They are available for review in Trenton.

    Even the state agencies responsible for discharging patients to these facilities can’t access them easily. So, for example, a person with mental illness could be discharged from a state mental hospital to a facility that has just received a poor inspection report with many violations.

    Mental health advocates say the proposed measure is an important first step in improving the quality of the state’s boarding homes.

    “Sunlight is the best disinfectant, and the more we can bring these things to light, the better it is for individuals with severe and persistent mental illness,” said Robert Davison, who heads the mental health association of Essex County.

    Even if the measure passes, Davison said, there are bigger problems it does not address. For example, he said, only six state employees are assigned to inspect the facilities across the state.

    And there are no real alternatives to sending people to boarding homes, said Mary Lynne Reynolds, who heads the mental health association in Southwestern New Jersey.

    “We have patients sitting in Ancora hospital and other hospitals waiting to be placed in the community, and there are not enough supported housing beds,” said Reynolds. Still, she said, the bill  is a sign that positive changes could happen in the future.

    The legislative measure has passed the Senate, and supporters expect it to be up for vote in the Assembly within a month.

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