Two phenomena are occurring in New Jersey that could forecast a major challenge for those who are elderly or medically fragile. First, thanks to medical science, people are living longer. Second, the economy is still engaged in a downturn and not likely to recover in the near future. The ever rising cost of health care, high property taxes, and the economy have resulted in senior citizens, and those about to retire, having less saved resources than ever before. No longer can one assume that savings will be there forever.

Those currently residing in assisted living facilities are facing ever increasing costs and fees. Furthermore, senior care itself is facing unprecedented financial challenges. The cost of running senior facilities, including assisted living facilities, nursing homes, and other alternative living arrangements are increasing costs each year. The ever rising costs of medication, alone, are making it difficult, if not impossible, for many seniors to receive adequate care.

It is not unusual for senior citizens who reside in assisted living facilities to suddenly learn that their life savings have been depleted. When this occurs, those senior residents are left with the choice to become Medicaid eligible or become homeless. It has not been unusual for senior assisted living residents to be asked to leave the facility by their service provider, when the provider refuses to handle Medicaid patients. The sudden impact of learning that one is soon to be expelled from their residential facility can be devastating.

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Recently, Assembly bill 3732 and Senate bill 2458 have been merged and signed into law, providing some hope for the future of these individuals.  Sponsored by Valerie Huttle (D-Bergen), and Annette Quijano (D-Union) in the Assembly and Richard Codey (D-Essex) and Sandra Bolden Cunningham (D-Hudson) in the Senate, the new law creates and enforces basic human rights for seniors living in such facilities.

According to Assemblywoman Quijano;

"Assisted living facilities care for some of our most vulnerable residents, many of whom are in the twilight of their life……….It's morally incumbent upon us to ensure that they are taken care of with a measure of dignity and respect. Hopefully this law will help people sleep easier at night, knowing their loved one is being cared for in a dignified manner."

Assemblywoman Huttle has pointed out that:

"When you have a loved one, particularly a mother or father, who is being cared for by a licensed facility, you hope and pray that they are in the best of hands,…………But this shouldn't be left to chance. We need to put the weight of law behind it to make sure they are receiving the best treatment in a fair manner."

The law requires that each facility will provide every resident, or their guardian or family, with a copy of their rights.

As Senator Codey indicates:

“More seniors today are living in settings other than nursing homes and it is important that we ensure they are given complete protection and rights under the law………..Far too many of these individuals become victims because they do not know their rights, or none have been established for them. This legislation will change that and afford them the protection they deserve.”

Senator Cunningham has reminded the pubic that:

“Statistics show that millions of Americans over age 65 have been injured, exploited or otherwise mistreated by someone on whom they depended for care or protection. That is simply unacceptable. It is time that all of our seniors are treated with the respect and protection under the law that they deserve”.

The Office of the Public Advocate issued a report in 2009, indicating that some assisted living facilities were attempting to evict resident/patients whose money had been depleted and were now Medicaid eligible. The Huttle/Quijano---Codey/Cunningham bill establishes more than forty basic rights that are designed to preserve the safety and personal welfare of such residents.

The New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services licenses and inspects all assisted living facilities. Residents are entitled to:

 “three meals a day served in a common dining area, housekeeping services, assistance with transportation, assistance with eating, bathing, dressing, toileting and walking, a wellness and nursing services program, medication management, social and recreational activities, and staffing 24 hours a day”.

Hopefully, this new law will result in a reasonable quality of life for New Jerseyans during their senior years.