In response to the delays in reacting to the deadly virus that swept through a New Jersey pediatric care facility last fall leading to the deaths of 11 children, the Senate approved a measure Thursday that would require nursing homes to develop emergency response plans.
Those plans would include procedures to isolate infected and “at risk” residents, and mandate notification of residents, families, visitors, and staff in the event of an outbreak.
Delays in notifying the state and hospitalizing patients, as well as issues with separating healthy kids from those who were infected, have been blamed in part for the death toll at the Wanaque Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation in Haskell, after the adenovirus outbreak. Many parents of children being cared for at the facility in northern Passaic County said they did not learn of the outbreak until reading about it in media accounts.
The bill, S-3900, passed 37-0 and now awaits the governor’s signature. A similar measure also passed the Assembly.
“The situation that spawned this bill is heartbreaking,” said Sen. Joseph Vitale, D-Middlesex, one of the sponsors and chairman of the Senate Health, Human Services, and Senior Citizens Committee. “Implementing an outbreak response plan in case of emergency is good policy and even better practice.”
Sen. Troy Singleton, D-Burlington, a co-sponsor, called the tragedy that befell the families of the children who died at the Wanaque Center "inexcusable and incomprehensible,” and said long-term care facilities "must have proper response guidelines when outbreaks occur so that what happened last year can never, ever happen again, anywhere in New Jersey.”
The legislation comes on the heels of a report in June by the state Department of Health, which called for a dramatic overhaul of how nursing homes respond to such emergencies. That report said all long-term care facilities who serve patients with ventilators, as was the case at Wanaque, need to perform drills and update their and emergency plans in the event of an outbreak. It also called for laboratory testing to be made available to confirm a diagnosis associated with any outbreak.
The state had also recommended the implementation of strong infection control measures, such as hand-washing policies and the availability of personal protective equipment to all staff entering patient rooms.
In addition to filing emergency response plans, the legislation approved Thursday requires policies be set to meet staffing, training, and facility demands during an infectious disease outbreak, and that routine medical surveillance be put in place to quickly identify signs of a communicable disease that could develop into an outbreak.
In February, the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services harshly criticized Wanaque, saying it found the facility to be ill-prepared to react to the rapid spread of a deadly strain of adenovirus that swept through its pediatric wards. Its 118-page report cited poor infection controls, delays in seeking treatment of sick kids that led to significant medical complications, as well as inadequate administrative oversight — including a medical director who was rarely there.
The agency has fined Wanaque Center $600,000 for a litany of violations. The facility is contesting the penalties.