A new and growing niche of the elder-care market will be governed by new rules. Governor Christie has signed a measure that will regulate Group homes for patients with Alzheimer’s and dementia as health care facilities not boarding houses. Valerie Vainieri Huttle sponsored that bill. She chairs the assembly human services committee. NJTV News Anchor Mary Alice Williams recently asked her what sparked the push to require group homes for dementia patients to have additional oversight?
Vainieri Huttle: Well, first of all the group homes, the memory care homes actually, they were taking care of patients with dementia and Alzheimer’s, and they were being regulated by the Department of Community Affairs, DCA, which really just regulates bricks and mortars. So, when a resident would go into these homes with dementia or Alzheimer’s, we all felt, not just I, but obviously the families felt that they needed more oversight and care. Therefore we needed to have the Department of Health, which would make much more sense, to protect the elderly going into these memory care homes then just DCA requirements.
Williams: So, now they would be classified as healthcare facilities rather than boarding houses?
Vainieri Huttle: Exactly, exactly, because when these families were placing their loved ones in these residences, they needed peace of mind, and they needed to feel that someone was attending to their health needs. You know, patients with dementia or Alzheimer’s certainly needs more staffing than someone just residing who is able to live independently without any oversight or through the Department of Health.
Williams: Who would be responsible for oversight?
Vainieri Huttle: The Department of Health, and they would be implementing regulations as we speak. They should have them implemented in nine months because the bill was just signed last week, so in nine months they would have the regulations and the oversight ready so that when a patient does go into these home again they can be rest assured that they are going to be protected by the Department of Health and not DCA.
Williams: Why weren’t the homes for senior citizens governed by the Health Department in the first place?
Vainieri Huttle: Good question, Mary Alice. What brought it to my attention is that I was getting phone calls from family members that you when go into a memory care facility it is like a home-like atmosphere and when they were bringing their loved ones to these facilities they felt they didn’t need to question it. They felt like they would be taken care of. But let’s face it, when you go into a memory care facility and you’re in the early stages of Alzheimer’s you do progressively deteriorate which you would think you would need more care and you would think the Department of Health would be the obvious department, but it wasn’t.
Williams: Let’s talk about the policy of Return Home New Jersey. You want to reverse that. Tell us about that.
Vainieri Huttle: Basically it will be reversed as an agreement was finally worked out after years of trying to have these families. Let’s just go back to what Return Home is. Families with disabilities, or people with disabilities, were placed outside of the state to live many years ago because the state did not have the proper facilities to take care of these severely disabled residents. Fast forward, Return Home was to bring these people back against the families wishes because right now they were living in a facility where they were probably living there lets say 10, 15, 20 years. It became their home. Not only was it their home, but to return home back to New Jersey we did not have the proper facilities — group homes or centers — to give them the same type of staffing or care as they had. So with that I was hearing as chair of human services, we had several hearings, and people did not want their loved ones to return home. Therefore, A, we started with a moratorium that was vetoed. I continued to advocate this and then we worked with the governor and leadership in the Senate and the Assembly and the families were really the voices. We really gave voices to the voiceless. We have about 400 families now that if they wish to reside outside of the state, their wishes will finally be granted. They will not be forced to come home against their will.
Williams: What about the families that have already been forced to bring their loved ones home?
Vainieri Huttle: Some of those families are doing ok. Others, if they’re not, I promise to them that we would work with the department to see if we can get them back to a facility where they were being cared for. It’s about really helping the families where they feel they can really live in a place where there is medical oversight. These residents that we’re talking about are severely disabled, mentally and physically.
Williams: What’s been the response of the families to this idea that they don’t have to return home?
Vainieri Huttle: They’re so grateful. It came during a really beautiful time of the season where we really should be thinking of others and they are just so at ease now because by forcing them to come back to a program that could not have the same capabilities of taking care of them, they were really not feeling at ease. They weren’t secure and they’re just so grateful right now that their loved ones are able to remain in their homes where they’ve lived for quite some time.