Hospitals, nursing homes, surgery centers and hospice centers up and down the state may soon be required to report COVID-19 outbreaks and fatalities to state health officials, under a measure approved on Dec. 17.
Senate Bill 2384 passed by a 79-0 Assembly vote and a 33-0 Senate vote. Gov. Phil Murphy has publicly supported such a measure, and is in favor of requiring health care centers to report fatalities and outbreaks to the state government.
“Yes, 100%. Folks have a right to know what’s going on,” he said earlier in December.
Hospitals and other health care providers would have to report data on a bimonthly basis to the New Jersey Department of Health on the number of cases and fatalities among health workers and emergency personnel.
“Front line essential health care workers have been and continue to be exposed to COVID-19 while caring for patients desperately sick with the virus in our hospitals,” reads a statement from Debbie White, president of the 14,000-member nurses union Health Professionals and Allied Employees.
“Nine months into this pandemic, we still do not have an accurate accounting of these affected workers.”
The state health department would have 12 months from when both the public health emergency and the state health emergency end before they have to publish that data.
That’s opposed to outbreaks at schools, psychiatric hospitals and long-term care centers – like senior centers and veteran’s homes – where data is posted online in near-real-time on the state’s COVID-19 dashboard.
According to HPAE, hospitals are claiming that outbreaks involving dozens of health care workers have all been traced outside of their facilities. And they’ve refused to share data on what health care workers have gotten COVID-19.
It is also according to a NorthJersey.com report, detailing outbreaks traced back to a number of hospitals operated by Hackensack Meridian Health: more than 100 workers at Ocean Medical Center in Brick, between 30 and 40 at Palisades Medical Center in North Bergen, and an outbreak at Jersey Shore Medical Center in Neptune.
Hackensack responded in a statement then that three dozen hospital workers had COVID-19 after contracting it from someone else who had the virus. But they maintained that “there is no evidence of transmission from team members to patients, or vice versa.”
Under official state guidelines, an outbreak at a hospital is defined as at least two cases linked to each other.
Cathy Bennett, president and chief executive officer of the New Jersey Hospital Association – the lobbying group for the state’s 71 acute-care hospitals – said her group supports such measures.
“As COVID-19 activity surges once again in New Jersey, one of our top priorities is ensuring that we have enough staff at the bedside caring for patients,” Bennett said. We will continue to support transparent efforts to ensure that the residents of this state feel confident seeking medically necessary care at our facilities.”
State health officials, like New Jersey Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli, warned that should the state’s already-stressed health care workers become infected with COVID-19, then the state’s public health infrastructure could become seriously strained.
“We may not have access to the same pool of travel staff, agency staff or military personnel that we had in the first wave because the entire country is surging,” White said this month.