The Record: Protecting the elderly

The Record Editorial

SOMETIMES, COMMON sense prevails in Trenton, and people who could actually stand to benefit from reform are given reason to believe, because a few determined legislators stuck to their guns and because a governor decided to meet them halfway. That was the case Monday when Governor Christie signed into law a measure that will place group home health care facilities for patients with Alzheimer's and dementia under the umbrella of the Department of Health, where it belongs, instead of as boarding homes under state housing officials.



Credit Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle, a prime sponsor of the bill, for keeping this fight alive and seeing it through. This is a win for all North Jersey families who now or who will confront the challenges of caring for a loved one suffering from Alzheimer's or dementia. Under the law, which updates the Rooming and Boarding Act of 1979, new rules for the group homes will be written to provide for the "health, safety and welfare" of dementia-care home residents.

"It's more than just bricks and mortar that needs to be looked at here," Huttle said last summer, after the state Senate passed the bill. "It is a question of well-being, and the Department of Health is better-suited to evaluate that."

Huttle was stirred to action after a 2012 story in The Record detailed a series of citations and safety lapses at a chain of group homes known formerly as Potomac Homes and now operating under Memory Health Care Living. The company operates 12 homes across the state, including eight in Bergen County. Three years ago, The Record's review of inspection records for the company's homes in North Jersey revealed reports of residents wandering out unlocked doors or gates, one incident in which a woman broke a hip climbing out a second-story window, and instances in which state inspectors found lax responses to residents' medical needs.

Certainly, as Huttle said Monday, these are often "very delicate situations involving some of our most vulnerable residents." Bringing the housing and staffing requirements for the care of this vulnerable population under the supervision of the Department of Health is a smart, practical shift in state policy. Housing dementia-care patients in group homes may be a new niche market, but with the aging of the baby boomer generation that demand may increase.

Besides having the department develop new standards for the group homes, the law requires it to provide information about such homes on its website, including ownership and regulation violations, as it does currently for other long-term care facilities.

Finding the right place for the care of a loved one suffering from dementia is complicated and gut-wrenching enough. Families should not also have to worry about whether care facilities are up to proper standards, or employ competent, well-trained staff. This new law will go a long way toward alleviating those concerns.