State calls for infection control plans following child deaths at nursing facility

State health officials are calling for massive overhauls at nursing facilities following the deaths of 11 children from a viral outbreak at the Wanaque Center last fall.

A new, long-anticipated report from the New Jersey Department of Health calls for long-term facilities that care for patients on ventilators to have an infection control plan in place, outlining a litany of policy recommendations to prevent the spread of disease.

At Wanaque, dozens of pediatric patients on ventilators contracted a severe strain of adenovirus, a respiratory virus that is typically not considered dangerous for healthy individuals but which proved deadly in a population that was already medically fragile.

One key recommendation of the Health Department report is for facilities to have a plan in place to separate sick and well patients — and the staff that care for them — as quickly as possible. Wanaque did not have enough space to separate the infected children when the outbreak started last September.

In February, a federal report from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services concluded the outbreak at Wanaque was made worse because those in charge didn’t plan for such an outbreak and didn’t react fast enough. An attorney for the Wanaque Center called the report “fundamentally inaccurate” and said Wanaque will appeal the findings.

State health officials are also calling for facilities to enforce a host of protocols to reduce the risk of transmitting infection between patients and staff, including: hand-washing policies; disinfecting and sterilization agents; personal protective equipment for staff entering patient rooms; ensuring the separation of clean and used medical equipment; and identifying and excluding sick staff members and visitors from entering the facility.