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New Jersey Long-Term Care Ombudsman

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Looking back on a tragic year like no other

One year ago tomorrow, March 13, No Visitors Permitted signs started to appear on the doors of every long-term care facility in the state and residents were confined to their rooms to contain the spread of COVID-19.

Since that time, residents and family members have suffered the pain of separation and isolation, as residents were required to stay their rooms for long periods of time, unable to have visitors, unable to leave the facility and even, in many cases, unable to move freely within the facility.

Staff in these long-term care facilities have had the near impossible task of filling the void left when family members were barred from entering. They deserve so much credit for showing up for work even during the darkest days of this pandemic, when the virus was spreading like wildfire everywhere and testing materials and personal protection equipment were in short supply.

Better days ahead

The good news is that that testing and PPE are now in ample supply, an average of 80 percent of residents of long-term care facilities are now fully vaccinated and both the state and federal guidance relating to visitation is changing – for the better.

On Wednesday, March 10, the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services issued new guidance that allows for greater visitation options. I am told that the New Jersey Department of Health is reviewing this federal guidance and is expected to mirror many of the federal requirements when they issue their next Executive Directive for the Resumption of Services in all Long-Term Care Facilities.

LTCO is here for residents of LTC and their loved ones

Throughout this horrible time for long-term care residents and their loved ones, the NJ Office of the Long-Term Care Ombudsman (LTCO) has engaged in legislative advocacy to reform the long-term care system, so that a crisis like this can never happen again. Thanks to our state legislature and Governor Murphy, NJ is in the process of implementing some of the most progressive and forward-leaning long-term care reform measures in the country.

In addition, the LTCO recently launched an innovative Social Isolation Project, designed to proactively visit isolated long-term care residents and suggest ways the facility can keep residents connected to the outside world and to each other. In addition, we are opening about 25 percent more cases for investigation than in previous years, our network of volunteer advocates continue to serve as a lifeline and we have continued to help people move out of nursing homes through the I Choose Home NJ program.

Empowering families

Over the course of the last year, the LTCO has also worked closely with family members to advocate for them to have greater access to their loved ones in long-term care and to facilitate their outreach and advocacy to state policy makers. No family group has been more energetic and influential than the Family Advocate Care Experience (FACE) for Seniors, a Facebook-organized advocacy group created by Bill Borrelle, whose mother is a resident of an assisted living facility in NJ.

Bill and his FACE for Seniors members are tireless advocates for their relatives in long-term care and for anyone living in a long-term care facility. In their typically creative fashion, they are hosting and promoting an event to mark this one-year anniversary in a manner that truly meets the moment in which we are living.

Tomorrow, FACE for Seniors will sponsor a Memorial Service for Those Who Died in Isolation, from 11:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. at Seven Presidents Oceanfront Park, Long Branch. There will be a lone white rocking chair adorned in flowers by the ocean and surrounded by large stones with the names of those who died as well as a large yellow wreath. During this event the names of loved ones who have died or who are suffering in isolation will be read aloud.

The goal of the event is to honor those we have lost, recognize the suffering of those who remain in isolation and to support changes in the NJ Department of Health Executive Directive for the Resumption of Services in all Long-Term Care Facilities that will loosen their facility visitation restrictions, now that most residents have been vaccinated. For more information about this event, visit the Facebook page.

It's been such a hard year with so much loss. We commend the residents, families and long-term care facility staff for their strength and resiliency during this difficult time. And we also commend the work of our advocacy partners including AARP New Jersey, Disability Rights New Jersey, Legal Services of NJ and the Goals of Care Coalition as well as our state partners in the NJ Department of Health, the NJ Department of Human Services and the NJ Department of Treasury who have supported us in our advocacy throughout this long and difficult year.

Last Updated: Tuesday, 03/16/21