‘Peggy’ Holds NJ Skilled Nursing Providers to Stronger Standard

The state of New Jersey took an added step to regulate elder care provided in institutional settings, recently implementing a new law that holds care providers to stricter reporting guidelines.

Sponsored by Republican State Sen. James Holzapfel, “Peggy’s Law” requires any caretaker, social worker, physician, registered or licensed practical nurse, or other professional to immediately report suspected abuse of elderly residents of care facilities to local law enforcement, as well as to the Office of the Ombudsman for the Institutionalized Elderly.

The law is named after Ortley Beach, N.J. resident Peggy Marzolla, who died at the age of 93 in August 2010.

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Marzolla was rushed to Ocean Medical Center from Brandywine Senior Living after staff at the nursing community explained she had “slipped on powder in a bathroom and fell backwards,” according to Brick Shorebeat.

Marzolla’s daughter, Maureen Persi, did not believe the explanation after seeing the extent of her mother’s injuries. Marzolla was covered in bruises, had a broken eye socket, cheekbone, jaw and wrist, and also had welts on her back. Marzolla died 65 days later. A lawsuit filed by Persi against the senior living community was settled out of court, according to Brick Shorebeat.

Brandywine operates 28 senior living properties in the state of New Jersey. In late June 2017, the Mt. Laurel, N.J.-based firm announced its plans to convert its only skilled nursing operation — located in Moorestown, N.J. — into a higher-end assisted living wing.

Seeking justice for her mother, Persi learned that investigations of abuse or assault towards the elderly in nursing homes and other medical facilities fell into the hands of the ombudsman’s office instead of local police. She began working towards legislation that would allow police and local authorities to investigate.

After being tabled in 2011, the piece of legislation was formally introduced in the state senate in February 2016. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie signed the law August 7.

“When families put their loved ones in the care of a nursing home or other assisted living facility, they expect that they’ll be treated properly and with respect,” said Sen. Holzapfel in a statement on social media. “‘Peggy’s Law’ will hold the people we entrust to care for our senior family members accountable for keeping them safe.”

The law will take effect in October, according to Theresa Edelstein, regulatory consultant at the New Jersey chapter of LeadingAge, an organization that represents non-profit long-term care providers.

“Our common goal is to achieve prevention of abuse of any elderly person living in a licensed facility, which is aligned with [the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’] continued focus on this important area in the Requirements of Participation for nursing homes,” said Edelstein in an e-mail to Skilled Nursing News.

The chapter is looking forward to working collaboratively with the Office of the Long Term Care Ombudsman and the New Jersey Department of Health regarding implementation of the law, as well as producing educational resources, Edelstein explained.

“Care of the elderly should be positively affected by ‘Peggy’s Law’ because the law increases the level of awareness of the seriousness and importance of this issue,” said Edelstein.

Written by Carlo Calma

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