Murphy: Majority Of Funding Earmarked For Paying Nursing Home Workers

TRENTON, N.J. (CBSNewYork)New Jersey is committing millions of dollars to reopen long-term care facilities safely.

Nursing homes were hit hard by the COVID-19 outbreak in New Jersey. Part of getting back to normal is an investment.

“To ensure that we get this right, we’re preparing a total $155 million in state and federal funds,” said Gov. Phil Murphy.

Governor Murphy says around $25 million of that will be used for testing.

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Milly Silva is the executive vice president of 1199 SEIU, a union representing, among others, nursing home workers in the state. She says getting testing paid for is critical.

“Unfortunately we heard too many stories of workers who are now getting bills because of testing that was required as a part of their job,” Silva said.

She’s also been advocating for personal protective equipment, which at the start of the pandemic was in short supply.

Watch Gov. Murphy’s Aug. 10, 2020 Briefing:

“I would say that has to be front center and be a part of what an expansion looks like in terms of visitation, and also as we prepare for a potential next wave of the pandemic, or going into the flu season,” Silva said.

The facilities would have to meet “mandatory benchmarks” based on advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state health officials in order to resume normal operations, according to Murphy.

The plan “will establish phases for reopening based on the time since a last outbreak and further timed to the broader reopening stages of our statewide road back,” said the governor.

Murphy says they’ll make sure stockpiles are filled. The Department of Health created four phases, new benchmarks, toward a full reopening. They allow for essential caregiver visits, require detailed infection control measures, and cleaning.

“To not only meet the current challenges but to ensure both the high quality care and the safety of residents and staff going forward,” Murphy said.

Also part of the announcement was a commitment to use Medicaid funding to increase wages.

“With this funding we would be able to increase wages, specifically for certified nursing aides, while also ensuring that our facilities can continue to fully support their current staffs and meet the more stringent criteria… that are being put in place,” Murphy said.

“To see that there’s now a real proposal on the table where certified nurses aides could see an increase in their wages up to $18 an hour is critical. We can’t just talk about it, we have to do it,” Silva said.

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Murphy said 60 percent of the funding must go to the nursing homes’ workforce. The rest would go to facilities once they have reliably met the benchmarks.

And because it would be Medicaid funding, the state’s Department of Health and Human Services says that’ll give them the ability to get their money back if it’s not used the right way.

“If we don’t get good evidence that the wages were passed through we would take the dollars back from the facility,” said N.J. DHS Commissioner Carole Johnson.

Those changes do require action at both the state and federal level.

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