Both impacted by COVID-19, long-term care residents and prison inmates get help from lawmakers

Julie Daurio, Producer | September 25, 2020 | Coronavirus in NJ
Bills now waiting action by Gov. Phil Murphy would allow early release for prisoners, increased staff at care facilities
Credit: (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)
File photo

On a day dominated by the Legislature’s swift passage of a nearly $33 billion spending bill, lawmakers also sent bills to Gov. Phil Murphy’s desk that address the impact of the coronavirus on two of the state’s most vulnerable populations.

New Jersey’s nursing homes and long-term care facilities account for about half of the state’s nearly 14,000 deaths from the virus.

Under S-2712, New Jersey nursing homes would be required to maintain a minimum level of direct-care staffing for every shift.

During the day, each certified nursing aide would be assigned to care for up to eight residents. The ratio then drops to one CNA for every 10 residents in the evening, and one CNA per 14 residents on the overnight shift.

The nursing home industry has long fought against mandatory ratios, claiming the one-size-fits-all requirements are “unachievable” and could force centers to halt admissions.

But elder advocates say staffing shortages can lead to substandard care — an issue magnified by the pandemic, during which more than 7,100 nursing home residents and staff in New Jersey have died.

The Legislature also passed bills Thursday to require isolation prevention plans at long-care facilities to keep residents connected with loved ones during public health emergencies and to provide supplemental payments to certain direct-care staff.

The bills come after Murphy signed four other reforms into law aimed at boosting pay for direct-care staff and strengthening emergency planning around long-term care.

New Jersey’s prisons have the highest rate of coronavirus-related deaths in the nation, according to the Marshall Project. The state corrections department reports 49 inmates have died, a number some advocates dispute as artificially low.

Up to 3,000 nonviolent offenders serving the last year of their sentence would be eligible for early release if bill S-2519 becomes law. Inmates and juveniles in state custody would be awarded credits that could reduce their sentence by up to eight months during the current pandemic and any future public health emergencies.

Individuals convicted of violent crimes including first-degree murder and aggravated sexual assault would not be eligible for early release.

Murphy signed an executive order in April to temporarily release some inmates to limit the spread of COVID-19 among the prison population.