Hospitals, nursing homes, surgery centers, senior homes, and hospice centers up and down the state will now be required to report COVID-19 outbreaks and fatalities of their staff to state health officials, under legislation Gov. Phil Murphy signed in February.
Nursing home and veterans homes were among the hardest hit facilities in the early days of the pandemic last year. The ferocity of the outbreak among older patients prompted widespread outrage and calls for reform.
Senate Bill 2384 requires hospitals and other health care providers 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. The bill received widespread support in both the state Assembly and Senate in December.
“Yes, 100%. Folks have a right to know what’s going on,” the governor.
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 different from 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.
During the first wave of the pandemic, which spanned from March to May, the state’s hospitals saw more than 8,000 COVID-19 patients. Hospitalizations from COVID-19 peaked at nearly 3,400 patients on Dec. 23.
Debbie White, who heads the 14,000-member Health Professionals and Allied Employees nurse’s union, said that hospitals were not publicizing information on outbreaks among their workers.
“Front line essential health care workers have been and continue to be exposed to COVID-19 in the workplace,” she said in a Feb. 4 statement. “Getting accurate data on health care worker exposure and COVID illness is critical to understanding health care worker safety during a pandemic outbreak.”
HPAE said in December that 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 in December. “We will continue to support transparent efforts to ensure that the residents of this state feel confident seeking medically necessary care at our facilities.”