Long-term care facilities must now submit outbreak response plans thanks to Schepisi efforts

Long-term care facilities must now submit outbreak response plans thanks to Schepisi efforts

Holly Schepisi

TRENTON, N.J. – Today, Gov. Phil Murphy signed legislation to require long-term care facilities to develop contagious disease outbreak response plans. Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi has been the driving force in the Legislature calling for reforms following the adenovirus outbreak at the Wanaque Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation that killed 11 children and sickened 36 last fall. She was the first lawmaker to sponsor legislation after daily discussions with the health commissioner during the outbreak.

“I’ve been in front of this issue since day one and it’s one that hits close to home,” said Schepisi (R-Bergen) who represents Wanaque as a legislator in District 39. “We need to be thorough and meticulous to ensure the right measures are taken to protect our most vulnerable — sick children and the elderly. I believe this bill will help save future lives and I’m relieved it is now law.”

Federal and state inspectors found deficiencies in infection control and management at the Wanaque Center and levied a penalty of $600,000. The first patient showed symptoms of the infection on Sept. 26, and health officials were notified on Oct. 9. By that time, two patients had died. It also took facility staff nearly a month to completely isolate those who were affected by the virus. The center is one of only four in the state that care for ventilator-dependent children, who require greater caution when moving.

“If the proper plans and protocol had been established and implemented, it’s possible this tragedy could have been avoided,” said Schepisi.

Under the law, all long-term care facilities are required to develop plans, but facilities that provide care to ventilator-dependent residents are also required to submit plans to the Department of Health for review. In addition, those with ventilator-dependent patients must employ or contract with both an individual certified by the Certification Board of Infection Control and Epidemiology and a physician who has completed an infectious disease fellowship.

The law includes recommendations from the Department of Health’s report issued on June 6. Schepisi co-sponsors the legislation (A5527) that passed both houses unanimously on June 27.