A bill is making its way through Trenton would increase fines on care homes and the people they employ, if they fail to report the suspected abuse or exploitation of institutionalized elderly patients.

The lead sponsor of the bill, Assemblywoman Joann Downey (D-Monmouth), said it would raise the fine on individuals from $500 to $1,500 and on care facilities from $2,500 to $5,000 for not reporting abuse by staff or other residents to law enforcement.

The proposed penalties would represent an increase from fines required by "Peggy's Law," a 2017 measure named for Peggy Marzolla. The 93-year-old Alzeheimer's patient, who resided at Brandywine Senior Living in Brick, suffered from a broken eye socket, broken jaw, broken wrist, elbow bruises and welts on her back and more, and died two months after being hospitalized in 2010.

No employee reported the abuse to the state's ombudsman office.

"By increasing the fine, we can ensure we'll have fewer cases that go unreported and that seniors are safe and better protected from abuse, exploitation and neglect," Downey said. "Caretakers in nursing homes and other senior living facilities have a responsibility to keep our loved ones safe.

The state's Office of Long-Term Care ombudsman said there was a 38% increase in the number of reported cases from 2,607 in 2015 to 3,601 in 2019.

Understaffing has also contributed to elder abuse in state facilities. Downey said.

"We're trying to be very proactive about promoting the reporting of the abuse so we can stop it quickly and make sure that we protect all of our seniors, all of our vulnerable people who we love," Downey said.

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