Military and Veterans Committee approves bill to better protect veterans’ homes
TRENTON – In response to the heavy deaths and devastation suffered by New Jersey veterans memorial homes during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, and in a bid to codify reforms surrounding these facilities going forward, the Senate Committee of Military and Veterans Affairs released a set of eight bills sponsored Senator Vin Gopal and Senator Joe Lagana, as well as Senators Patrick Diegnan, Joe Vitale and Nilsa Cruz-Perez to protect veterans and better prepare state at the next emergency public health crisis that may arise.
Legislation put forward out of committee this week includes practical reforms and effective countermeasures in the face of such a health crisis, with a bill requiring administrators of veterans’ homes to have prior work experience in a clinical setting, measures that are trying to establish better communication with families and guardians, as well as to institute higher levels of transparency on the part of the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs.
âAt the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, our Paramus and Menlo Park veterans memorial homes were Ground Zero for death and destruction at the hands of a virus like we have never seen in our lifetimes. Indeed, in these two homes alone, 191 residents and two caregivers died due to lax infection controls and other institutional missteps, âsaid Senator Gopal, (D-Monmouth), chairman of the committee. “With this set of bills, we will codify into law the reforms necessary to bring more security, communication and transparency to these homes in the future.”
Invoices include S-3905 and S-3906, sponsored by Senators Gopal and Lagana, which would increase communication between homes and guardians of veterans in medical emergencies, require memorial homes to hold quarterly meetings with guardians;
“At the height of the COVID crisis, close family members and guardians linked to veteran residents received little or uneven information regarding the health and well-being of their loved ones,” said Senator Lagana (D-Bergen / Passaic). “This is unacceptable and adds an insult to injury to these families, who have been kept in the dark about the health of these veterans for too long and were often unable to obtain the most basic information about the condition. type of treatment they were receiving. “
A sister invoice, S-3918, sponsored by Senator Lagana, would require the DMVA adjutant general to send weekly reports to the state health commissioner regarding the state of veterans’ homes during a public health emergency, allowing for better coordination and planning between homes and AVD;
Regarding two other bills sponsored by Senators Gopal and Lagana, S-3906 allow a guardian of a veteran to remove the veteran from the Veterans Memorial Home in certain emergency circumstances; while S-3907, requires the position of Resident Advocate at every Veterans Memorial Home.
Under the bill, S-3908, sponsored by Senator Cruz-Perez, the state’s veterans facilities would be required to provide pay-based journal information to the NJ’s long-term care ombudsman. This would better assess the staffing levels in these long-term care facilities and ensure that quality care is provided to these veterans at all times of the day.
“Given the confusion and obvious gaps in staffing that became evident during the worst days of the pandemic, a better and more accessible database of staffing records is a long-standing necessary reform that will lead to more better health care and treatment outcomes for our veterans, and greater transparency, âsaid Senator Cruz-Perez (D-Camden / Gloucester), the vice-chairman of the committee.
Invoices S-3903 and S-3909, both sponsored by Senator Diegnan and Senator Vitale, have put in place practical safeguards to ensure that Veterans Memorial Homes are operated and managed by people with appropriate experience. The first bill would require the administrator and deputy administrator of state veterans’ memorial houses to have prior work experience in a clinical setting; the second would require the director of the Veterans Health Care Services Division of the VADD to have previous clinical and long-term care experience.
“We must do everything possible to never again see the horrific wave of death and disease in the memorial homes of our veterans, which occurred at the start of the pandemic,” said Senator Diegnan (D-Middlesex). “We need to do better for our veterans, who sacrificed themselves for their country and deserve the best care we can provide, as well as the best leadership to ensure this mandate is carried out.”
âEveryone has known from the start of the pandemic that the most vulnerable populations are in nursing homes and veterans’ homes. In the future, we need to pay more attention and devote additional resources to these facilities. We also need to ensure that they are led by people with the right qualifications and work experience. We cannot allow these residents to be forgotten victims of the most tragic public health crisis of our time, âsaid Senator Vitale (D-Middlesex).
The bills were all released from the committee by a 5-0 vote.