(TRENTON) - Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Patrick J. Diegnan, Jr., Gabriela Mosquera, Jason O'Donnell and Valerie Vainieri Huttle to help recognize and prevent cardiac illnesses in children received final legislative approval Monday and now heads to the governor's desk.
"We've seen far too many tragic cardiac incidents among students in recent years," said Diegnan (D-Middlesex). "In most of these cases, the student was completely unaware of any pre-existing cardiac condition. This bill will help increase detection and prevent future tragedies."
Diegnan has consistently advocated for better policies to help prevent sudden tragic cardiac incidents among students, including sponsoring legislation to develop an information campaign about a specific type of heart disease - hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) - as well as legislation requiring automatic external defibrillators in schools.
The bill (A-1473) approved today would require that an annual medical examination of any person 19 years of age and under include questions contained in the "Pre-Participation Physical Evaluation" form developed to screen students seeking to participate in school-sponsored athletics.
"Some people miss the signs of a cardiac condition because they are so accustomed to them, unaware of the danger to their health," said Mosquera (D-Camden/Gloucester). "This can help identify at-risk children early so they can receive the proper treatment before a serious incident occurs."
The bill also requires the Commissioner of Health, in consultation with various experts, to develop a cardiac screening professional development module, which advanced practice nurses, physicians, and physician assistants performing medical examinations would be required to periodically complete. These individuals would be required to attest to their completion of the module upon renewal of certification, registration, or licensure, as applicable.
The module shall include, but need not be limited to, the following:
completing and reviewing a detailed medical history with an emphasis on cardiovascular family history and personal reports of symptoms;
identifying symptoms of sudden cardiac arrest that may require follow-up assessment with a cardiologist;
recognizing normal structural changes of the heart;
recognizing prodromal symptoms that precede sudden cardiac arrest;
performing the cardiovascular physical examination; and
reviewing the major etiologies of sudden unexplained cardiac death with an emphasis on structural abnormalities and acquired conditions.
"Prevention is key to ensuring students are heart healthy as they participate in school activities," said O'Donnell (D-Hudson). "By requiring and performing tests for heart disease, we will be helping students not only prepare for their next activity but for a lifetime of healthy living."
"The adage says that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure," said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). "With this legislation, we can begin the process of teaching students how to safely stay active and healthy throughout their lives."
Additionally, the bill directs the Director of the Division of Consumer Affairs in the Department of Law and Public Safety, in consultation with the Commissioner of Health, to adopt rules and regulations to carry out the provisions of the bill.
The bill would take effect on the first day of the fourth month following its enactment, but authorizes the Director of the Division of Consumer Affairs and the Commissioner of Health to take prior administrative action as necessary for its implementation.
The bill was approved 57-13-4 by the Assembly and 37-0 by the Senate in June.