State tells nursing homes: Be transparent about coronavirus, or we will out you

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By Rebecca Everett | For April 04 2020

Residents are evacuated from St. Joseph’s Senior Home in Woodbridge and helped onto buses to be taken to a CareOne facility in Whippany on March 25, 2020. AP Photo/Seth Wenig

After complaints about a lack of transparency regarding outbreaks of the coronavirus in long-term care facilities in New jersey, the state Department of Health is issuing a clear directive on how facilities must notify staff, residents and their families about COVID-19 cases.

State Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli made the announcement Saturday after NJ Advance Media reported families have been unable to get timely, accurate information from nursing homes caring for their loved ones. Some staff members also alleged they were kept in the dark about who had the virus even as they tried desperately to stop the spread.

Persichilli said she is instructing nursing homes to notify all residents and staff members in person and in writing within 24 hours. Facilities must notify families or whoever is designated responsible for the resident via telephone, email or another form of communication within 24 hours, and must follow it up in writing within three days, she said. This should happen when a resident or staff member is a confirmed case or a “person under investigation” for coronavirus.

At the state’s daily coronavirus press briefing, Persichilli said she will release the information to the public herself if the nursing homes don’t comply.

“This morning I spoke with the CEO of the long-term care association to inform him that if we are not notified by close of business on Monday that every nursing home and assisted living facility has contacted family members and staff, we will release the names of the long-term care facilities with at least one COVID-19 case,” she said.

Jonathan Dolan, president & CEO of the Health Care Association of New Jersey, said he spoke with Perischilli and Gov. Phil Murphy Saturday and is pleased that they are sending a clear message about what is expected.

“They called, they asked us to help, and they are helping by their directive,” Dolan said. He said he believes most nursing homes have been quickly notifying of COVID-19 cases. “But we know some folks have not done it right and we’re going to make sure they do.”