N.J. Assembly OKs stricter scrutiny of group homes for disabled

Susan K. Livio, NJ Advance Media for NJ.com

TRENTON -- The state Assembly voted Monday to impose stricter rules on the private agencies that operate group homes for people with developmental disabilities.

The bill (A2503) is named for Stephen Komninos, a 22-year-old man who died in 2007 when he was left unsupervised against medical orders, and choked to death on a bagel.

Assemblywoman Valerie Vainer Huttle (D-Bergen), the prime sponsor of the legislation, praised the Komninos family for channeling their grief "to make sure no other parent goes through this."

Stephen's father, Thomas Komninos of Upper Saddle River was so moved by the Assembly's support of the bill, he could barely speak after the vote.

Aileen Rivera of Wayne and Martha Cray of Roselle Park, mothers whose disabled sons have suffered abuse in the care of state-licensed or state-run facilities, hugged him and wept.

"We're grateful to the overwhelming response from the Assembly. It hopefully it sends a message to the Senate that this is the right thing to do," Komninos said.

What families want is the same oversight and vigilance that children receive in school and day care centers, Rivera said. "It's been a long journey - six years - and we are not going to give up," she said.

"We are trying to bring the same policies, protections and rights (for people with developmental disabilities) as everyone else has," Komninos added.

Passing by a 76-0 vote, the bill would require:

  • Six unannounced inspections at a group home every year;
  • Drug testing for group home employees;
  • Family and guardian notification within an hour after a medical emergency;
  • Investigators to seek input from families or guardians and provide them progress reports during investigations;
  • The Department of Human Services to send an investigator to the facility within 48 hours of a report of abuse or neglect.
  • The nonpartisan Office of Legislative Services estimated the inspection requirements "would likely increase state costs by several million dollars annually. Many, but not all, of these costs would be eligible for a 50 percent federal matching share under the Medicaid program."

The bill now moves to the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee.