Murphy signs two laws to improve N.J. long-term care facilities as pandemic rages on

Patients from St. Joseph’s Senior Home in Woodbridge were evacuated March 25 after multiple residents contracted COVID-19 and some died. (NJTV News)

Patients from St. Joseph’s Senior Home in Woodbridge were evacuated March 25 after multiple residents contracted COVID-19 and some died. (NJTV News)

New Jersey has two new state laws to improve the long-term care industry, which suffered heavy losses during the height of the coronavirus pandemic and continues to face intense scrutiny for how it responded to the crisis.

Both laws deal with the amount of contact residents have with their caregivers, friends and family.

“We have been determined that New Jersey will lead the way forward, that we will learn from this,” Gov. Phil Murphy said during a Facebook Live event Friday to sign the bills.

The first law sets a ratio of one direct care staffer to every eight residents for the day shift, one to every 10 residents for the evening shift, and one to every 14 residents overnight. The industry had already been plagued with staffing shortages before COVID-19, and the virus put an even greater strain on the people working in nursing homes and other facilities.

The second law requires facilities to implement policies preventing residents from becoming socially isolated. Public health experts worried that restricted visitation policies in response to the pandemic would have a detrimental effect on residents’ mental health.

“Beyond the danger of the virus itself, the physical and emotional impact on residents of not having enough time with their caregivers — especially when their families cannot be with them — has been devastating in so many ways,” said Milly Silva, executive vice president of the health care workers’ union 1199 SEIU.

According to state data, 6,827 long-term care residents and 121 staff members have died from COVID-19 in New Jersey this year.

Critics have accused the Murphy administration of allowing sick residents to return to the long-term care facilities where they lived, but the directive clarified that coronavirus-positive patients should only be allowed back if they could be separated from healthy residents.

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