N.J. bill aims to protect long-term care residents from being financially exploited

The state Senate unanimously passed the measure, which would prohibit owners or employees in a long-term care facility from appointing themselves as residents' guardians.

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patient at a nursing home

FILE - Melvin Goldstein, 90, smiles as his daughter Barbara Goldstein gives him a kiss on the head during a visit to the Hebrew Home at Riverdale, Sunday, March 28, 2021, in the Bronx borough of New York. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

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A bill that aims to protect residents in long-term care facilities from being financially exploited is making its way through the New Jersey Legislature.

The state Senate unanimously passed the bipartisan measure, S1962, which would prohibit long-term care facilities owners or employees from appointing themselves as guardians of residents, unless they have court approval. The provisions of the bill would apply to any long-term care facility, including nursing homes, assisted living residences and comprehensive personal care homes, as well as residential health care facilities, including dementia care.

“This bill is necessary to protect seniors in long-term facilities, where in some cases families are just not aware that they come in there and all of a sudden, they want to appoint somebody who is not a family member as a guardian, or a power of attorney,” said state Sen. Robert Singer, one of the bill’s prime sponsors.

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Singer said the legislation was developed after a long-term care administrator appointed himself as the guardian of a resident and began selling items belonging to the resident, including the resident’s car. The employee was caught.

Family members usually serve as guardians for seniors, but if that’s not an option, a surrogate judge can appoint a legal guardian outside of the immediate family.

The bill, if it passes the full Legislature, would also require the Department of Health to develop a standard for admission agreements at long-term care facilities, which could not be altered unless health officials approve the changes.

“A person comes in there, signs things, and who reads the fine print? Do you ever take a look at your car insurance and read it? I haven’t,” Singer said. “It’s like anything else: People sign things and don’t know what they’re signing.”

Evelyn Liebman, the director of advocacy for AARP of New Jersey, said the bill needs to be passed by the full Legislature and signed by the governor as soon as possible.

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“It recognizes that some of our most at-risk and frail neighbors living in nursing homes are at risk of elder financial exploitation,” she said.

She said having a standard admission agreement is very important and would give seniors and their loved ones peace of mind that they’re signing a document that protects them and saves them from unexpected financial liability.

Ben Mandelbaum, CEO of the Senior Planning Services long-term care facility in Lakewood, N.J., said the bill would go after “bad actors” in the industry.

“If anyone takes advantage of a senior in any financial matter, there should be the appropriate price to pay,” he said. “Long-term care facilities are a good group with good intentions doing good work, but unfortunately you’re always going to have a few bad actors in every industry, so safeguards are important.”

Mandelbaum said the number of seniors needing long-term care is increasing.
“There are more individuals that can be taken advantage of, and legislation has to be forward-thinking and looking out for our most vulnerable people,” he said.

The Assembly Aging and Human Services Committee is now reviewing the legislation, A1888.

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