In response to more than 190 residents losing their lives in New Jersey’s Veterans Memorial Homes during the COVID-19 pandemic, Assembly Democrats Cleopatra Tucker, Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Lisa Swain and Sterley Stanley sponsor a bill to improve information-sharing by requiring additional reporting from the Office of the New Jersey Long-Term Care Ombudsman (NJLTCO) on the quality of life and care in these facilities. The legislation was advanced by the Assembly Military and Veterans Affairs Committee on Monday.
The NJLTCO is an independent advocate for seniors living in long-term care (LTC) residences throughout the state. The office helps address challenges residents may face in LTC facilities while working to bring about legislative change that would advance the rights and improve the well-being of these residents.
The Office of the NJLTCO is currently required to submit an annual report to the Governor and Legislature summarizing its activities on behalf of elderly residents in LTC facilities. Under the bill (A-5178), the office would be required to also submit a report to the oversight board of each veterans facility summarizing its activities related to the care and quality of life in veterans homes.
“If the people charged with ensuring the welfare of our veterans are unaware of issues these long-term care facilities are facing, they won’t be able to fix those issues,” said Assemblywoman Tucker (D-Essex). “That’s exactly why it’s so important for oversight boards to receive a regular report from advocates on the ground who can provide critical insight into our state’s veterans homes. The more information we share with one another regarding the conditions in these facilities, the more likely we will be to have the ability to address problems before they lead to tragic outcomes.”
The office’s annual report would include information about any trends and issues the office has found regarding the system of care and services provided in these facilities. The NJLTCO’s report would further provide any recommendations regarding ways in which the State could resolve complaints and ensure the health, safety and rights of the veterans in these homes.
“Building a bridge between the ombudsman’s office and our veterans homes will help ensure better safety and quality of life for the residents in these facilities,” said Assemblywoman Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). “Regularly sharing information with officials about issues affecting veterans will help make sure those problems are sufficiently addressed and our veterans get the care they both need and deserve.”
“It’s never a bad idea to have more transparency when it comes to ensuring the well-being of vulnerable individuals,” said Assemblywoman Swain (D-Bergen, Passaic). “The veterans in these homes have been entrusted to the care of New Jersey, which is why we must do everything we can to promote information-sharing and make sure their needs are being met.”
The non-profit Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) collaborated with the Assembly on this legislation to help make sure it addresses the needs of New Jersey’s veterans.
“Veterans have sacrificed so much on behalf of this country,” said Assemblyman Stanley (D-Middlesex). “We owe it to them to provide the best quality of life in our veterans homes, which we can do by establishing thorough reporting on the conditions and care provided by these facilities.”
The bill now heads to the Assembly Speaker for further consideration.