Gottheimer Fights to Protect North Jersey Seniors, Veterans in Long-Term Care Facilities from COVID-19

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PARAMUS, NJ, September 21, 2020 | comments

Demands Facilities Urgently Prepare for Flu Season, Fall & Winter

Asks: Are They Ready?

Presses State for Rapid Testing in Facilities

Announces 50-Member Bipartisan Endorsement of Gottheimer-Smith “Nursing Home Pandemic Protection Act”


Above: Gottheimer at the Paramus Veterans Home today.

Today, Monday, September 21, 2020, U.S. Congressman Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5) stood outside the Paramus Veterans Memorial Home to outline steps to help protect North Jersey seniors and veterans in long-term care facilities from COVID-19, and to demand to know if facilities are properly prepared as North Jersey enters flu season. Gottheimer also pressed the State of New Jersey to clarify directives for rapid testing in long-term care facilities and called for hazard pay to help support hardworking frontline caregivers. 

Gottheimer also announced that the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus — made up of 25 Democrats and 25 Republicans and co-chaired by Gottheimer — has now officially endorsed his bipartisan Nursing Home Pandemic Protection Act, cosponsored by fellow Problem Solver and New Jersey Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-4).

In an effort to ensure facilities are prepared for the fall and winter, Gottheimer noted that he and Rep. Bill Pascrell, Jr. (NJ-9) continue to await a written response regarding an update on testing and staffing levels from the authorities responsible for New Jersey’s state-run veterans homes.

“With flu season around the corner, I’m here today at this state-run veterans home to ensure we are taking the steps now to prevent another massive COVID tragedy here and at other nursing homes in the coming months,” said Congressman Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5). “Today, I am announcing new bipartisan support for my Nursing Home Pandemic Protection Act, which will help us protect our seniors and long-term care facilities through COVID and other health crises. I’m also calling on the state to take rapid action on testing protocols at our nursing homes. Unfortunately, according to new analysis from the Kaiser Family Foundation, data shows that cases and deaths in facilities may be on the rise again. For the sake of our seniors and veterans, we simply can’t allow history to repeat itself.” 

Gottheimer outlined key initiatives today to protect seniors and veterans in long-term care facilities, including:

  • The bipartisan Nursing Home Pandemic Protection Act: Gottheimer has introduced this bipartisan bill, along with Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-4), to require that nursing homes report communicable diseases, infections, and potential outbreaks in real time to the CDC; to require that residents and their families be kept informed of infections inside the facilities; to mandate that facilities have a crisis plan in place to manage an outbreak; and require that facilities have a stockpile of PPE on hand
    • The bill has now earned the bipartisan endorsement of the 50-Member Problem Solvers Caucus, co-chaired by Gottheimer, clearly showing the groundswell of support from both sides of the aisle over these issues. 
  • Clear testing directives for New Jersey long-term care facilities: Gottheimer is calling on the State of New Jersey to expeditiously clarify its directives surrounding rapid testing of facility residents, staff, visitors, and inspectors, so that nursing home operators and administrators have a clear path forward to protect residents inside the facilities and ensure those entering facilities are properly and quickly tested. 
  • Hazard pay for New Jersey long-term care facility caregivers on the frontlines: According to public reporting, nursing home experts have said that the spread of the disease can be exacerbated by low pay that can force caregivers to work at multiple facilities to make ends meet. Gottheimer, today, called for efforts for hardworking long-term care facility caregivers to receive the hazard pay they deserve for selflessly working on the front lines of this pandemic, and to help keep themselves and those they care for safe.
  • Accountability and answers for the Paramus Veterans Home COVID-19 outbreak: After learning of the outbreak occurring in the facility in April, Gottheimer worked with Rep. Bill Pascrell, Jr. (NJ-9) to help get New Jersey National Guard strike teams into the facility within hours, as well as VA personnel and top infectious disease doctors to come consult with the facility’s medical staff. Gottheimer and Pascrell have now asked the facility's CEO to resign, they have reiterated the need for the State Legislature to investigate, and they are continuing to fight to expand oversight and transparency into state-run veterans homes.

Watch today’s announcement HERE.

Gottheimer’s remarks as prepared for delivery are below.

During the first several months of this crisis, North Jersey was in the eye of the COVID-19 storm — with the coronavirus devastating our communities. It hit our hospitals and health systems, our towns, and our most vulnerable populations: our seniors, our veterans, and those living in long-term care facilities including 81 veterans and one staff member right here at the state-run veterans home.

We saw how coronavirus outbreaks wreaked havoc most acutely on nursing homes, state-run veterans homes, and other long-term care facilities.

We saw it at Andover Subacute, here at the Paramus Veterans Home, and many others throughout New Jersey.

So far, our state’s long-term care facilities have seen 7,142 COVID deaths — that’s roughly half of New Jersey’s total COVID deaths. It happened at long-term care facilities across my district in Sussex County, Warren County, Passaic County, and all across Bergen County, including at least 83 at the Andover Subacute facility in Andover Township. What’s particularly concerning is that New Jersey’s long-term care facilities coronavirus deaths have more than doubled in the past three months.

And we continue to think of the families and loved-ones of all those we’ve lost, especially our veterans.

With flu season around the corner, I’m here today at this state-run veterans home to ensure we are taking the steps now to prevent another massive COVID tragedy here and at other nursing homes in the coming months. 

Today, I will be announcing new bipartisan support for my Nursing Home Pandemic Protection Act, which will help us protect our seniors and long-term care facilities through COVID and other health crises.

I’m also calling on the state to take rapid action on testing protocols at our nursing homes. 

Unfortunately, according to new analysis from the Kaiser Family Foundation, data shows that cases and deaths in facilities may be on the rise again.

For the sake of our seniors and veterans, we simply can’t allow history to repeat itself. 

Now, compared to those first few awful months, we now know more about the virus and what it takes to help stop outbreaks from beginning. 

We know that in some facilities, especially early on, there was lax infection control, some mismanagement in certain state-run facilities, hardworking frontline caregivers were not properly equipped or trained on safety precautions, they didn’t have enough PPE, residents were not being isolated properly to prevent further spread, and resident’s loved-ones were not always kept informed of possible issues inside a facility.

That’s why, earlier this year, I first introduced the Nursing Home Pandemic Protection Act — cosponsored by my New Jersey colleague Congressman Chris Smith.

With my bipartisan bill, we will put vital protections in place to more fully safeguard the vulnerable residents in our long-term care facilities from this deadly virus — both in New Jersey and nationwide.

This bipartisan legislation will require that nursing homes report communicable diseases, infections, and potential outbreaks in real time to the CDC; it will require that residents and their families be kept informed of infections inside the facilities; it mandates that facilities have a crisis plan in place to manage an outbreak; and that they have a stockpile of PPE on hand.

Communication to the CDC and loved-ones, a crisis plan, and the PPE a facility needs: all core protections for nursing homes and veterans homes as we enter the Fall and flu season, and as we head into next year.

And now, this bill has earned a key bipartisan endorsement in Congress.

The Problem Solvers Caucus, a bipartisan group I’m proud to co-chair — made up of 25 Democrats and 25 Republicans — has endorsed this legislation, and I hope it can be brought to the floor for a vote in the coming weeks. 

A bipartisan endorsement like this is key to helping get legislation to the House floor for a vote, because it clearly shows the groundswell of support from both sides of the aisle over these issues. 

Republicans and Democrats alike want greater protections for our seniors and veterans, and we want to make sure our long-term care facilities are prepared and following proper protocols. 

This isn’t a Republican or Democratic issue — it’s an American issue.

Across the United States, we have approximately 15,600 nursing homes and long-term care facilities caring for more than 1.3 million Americans, and more than 68,000 nursing home residents have died from COVID-19 nationwide.

This hits every state, every region, and it’s a major issue we can all unite on to help combat this together.

Back here in New Jersey, as the Star-Ledger reported just this morning, our nursing homes want to be able to use rapid testing for real-time screening of workers and visitors, but the State is concerned with the accuracy of these rapid tests, which can give false negative and false positive results.

New Jersey’s Department of Health has said they’re re-evaluating the use of rapid tests for residents and staff in our long-term care facilities. Today, I’m calling on the state to expeditiously clarify its directives, so that our nursing home operators and administrators have a clear path forward to protect residents inside the facilities and ensure staff, visitors, and inspectors coming and going are properly and quickly tested. 

We also need facility staff to have the resources and support they need to help keep residents safe

As the New York Times has reported, nursing home experts say that the spread of the disease can be exacerbated by low pay scales that force nurses and aides to seek work at more than one facility.

A health care policy professor at Harvard has said: “We don’t value this work force, and if we paid them a full-time position or a living wage, they wouldn’t have to do all this moonlighting across facilities.”

We need to ensure hardworking long-term care facility caregivers receive the hazard pay they deserve for selflessly working on the front lines of this pandemic, to keep them safe and keep those they care for safe.

We also need measures in place to ensure the tragedies at state-run veterans homes, like here in Paramus, don’t happen ever again.

To fully address the outbreak that happened here that claimed so many lives, I’m continuing to fight for answers and accountability, alongside my friend and colleague Congressman Bill Pascrell.

Bill and I helped get New Jersey National Guard strike teams into this facility within hours of learning of the outbreak there, and we got VA personnel and our top infectious disease doctors to come consult with the facility’s medical staff, as well as to other nursing homes across the state.

But our veterans and their loved ones deserve more than our sympathy, and that’s why we’ve asked the facility's CEO to resign, we’ve reiterated the need for the State Legislature to investigate, and we’re fighting to expand oversight and transparency into state-run veterans homes.

Recently, the House passed bipartisan legislation that included my provision to provide resources to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Office of the Inspector General to ensure proper compliance of state-run veterans homes, including the Paramus Veterans Home.

What happened at this facility was heartbreaking and unacceptable, we’re fighting for accountability, and I’m continuing to fight in Washington for legislation to ensure it never happens again.

With all these measures in place and with my bipartisan legislation working its way through Congress, we are helping ensure our long-term care facilities are ready and that they’ll have the proper protocols and precautions in place.

My Nursing Home Pandemic Protection Act, my legislation to get more resources to the Veterans Affairs Inspector General to ensure proper compliance from state-run veterans homes — all with bipartisan support — are provisions we need in place, to help North Jersey, and to help protect folks nationwide. 

I’m glad that we’re seeing Democrats and Republicans come together to fight these issues together.

As we’ve seen over these past few months, here in New Jersey and throughout our country, we are stronger when we all come together.

Please stay healthy — stay safe.

May God bless you and God bless these United States of America.

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