TRENTON, N.J. – Assemblywoman Aura Dunn’s bill to help families visit their loved ones with developmental disabilities living in facilities and residences overwhelmingly passed the Assembly Thursday by a vote of 75-0.
The bill (A-4239) clarifies that families will have the ability to enjoy in-person visitation between a resident of the community-based residential program or group home and the resident’s immediate family members and legal guardian.
“Visits between family members and those in these settings is so important to ensure the continued well-being of both patients and those they love,” said Assemblywoman Dunn (R-Morris). “All the evidence we’ve seen indicates that lack of contact harms these people and makes their lives even harder. I thank my colleagues in the Assembly for recognizing this fact and getting the bill one step closer to becoming law so this will never happen again.”
There have been 866 total positives and 138 total deaths reported by the Division of Developmental Disabilities, which includes “own home” and “individuals not under services” categories.
The state Department of Human Service released guidance on March 30 that allowed residential providers to restrict visitors during the current health emergency, including individuals only being able to schedule a visit if the provider determines it is necessary for the health and safety of residents or staff. Specifically, this included family visits related to critical medical or behavioral treatment only.
Since that decision, there have been reports of group homes being seemingly neglected or forgotten during the Covid-19 pandemic. This includes reports of residents being forced to be cooped up alone in their small rooms without sufficient interaction with caregivers and family. Some family members said prisoners have more rights than some residents with special needs, including not being able to see loved ones.
“The decision by the Murphy administration has caused real, demonstrable harm to the people the Division is morally and legally obligated to serve and protect,” said Dunn. “The bill will ensure access and help reverse some of the damage that was done in past months.”
The bill now moves to the state Senate for its consideration.