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More than a dozen long-term care reform bills have now been proposed in the Legislature since the coronavirus outbreak began, with the latest coming from one of the loudest critics of how the Murphy administration handled the deadly outbreak.

Sen. Joseph Pennacchio, R-Morris, along with Sen. Anthony Bucco, introduced legislation that focuses on visits inside of facilities, weekly testing and employment restrictions for staff members. He called the proposed "Sally’s Law" "a common-sense piece of legislation."

“This will codify and say in the future, not only for COVID but in future pandemcis, regardless if they are statewide or they’re just affecting an outbreak in one particular nursing home, this is what we expect to see and this is what we think should happen,” Pennacchio said.

The state suspended visits to nursing homes in March but restored them in June, in designated outdoor spaces. Healthy visitors are allowed into facilities during an end-of-life situation and to see pediatric and developmentally or intellectually disabled family members.

On Aug. 10, Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli announced a series of steps that will have to be followed for a facility to reopen for indoor visits. Among those is that the state's "road back" must have been in Phase 3 for at least two weeks, and the state has not yet reached that point.

The Senate last week passed a bill creating an Isolation Prevention Project in long-term care facilities, including written policies about in-person visits and, at times those visits aren’t possible, making the technology available for virtual visits.

In May, more than two months into the pandemic, the Department of Health ordered testing of all long-term care residents and staff to begin. People who test negative are tested again in three to seven days.

Pennacchio says that should be the law and that he’s not clear on how the state’s administration of the tests has gone, as it isn’t providing him data citing a public-records exemption in health emergencies.

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“Which is crazy,” Pennacchio said. “If you ever had to comply with OPRA, this is the time when you have to do it because you have a governor that’s basically one-man rule. He’s not governing, he’s ruling.”

As of three weeks ago, more than 805,000 tests had been done on staff and residents, including more than 310,000 of residents and 495,000 on staff. That accounted for more than one-third of all the tests done in the state, to that point.

Those tests detected more than 38,000 COVID-19 cases, including almost 25,000 among residents and almost 13,300 among staff. Combined, to date, 7,085 staff and residents have died.

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Pennacchio said the legislation also includes employment restrictions to prevent staff from working at multiple nursing homes. He said says that’s one of the ways COVID-19 spread.

“During these times of pandemic, when all hands have to be on board, dividing yourself because you need the extra hours between two different facilities, I think that becomes a specious point,” he said. “And quite frankly, this is something that we have to address.”

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