TRENTON – With the number of deaths caused by falls in New Jersey up nearly 50% over the past decade, state lawmakers are considering spending nearly $12 million on a prevention program.

Falls are the leading cause of death from unintentional injury among those 60 and older in New Jersey – more than twice the amount resulting from a car crash, according to the state Department of Human Services.

But they also lead to an estimated 55,000 visits to emergency rooms a year, according to AARP New Jersey, and roughly $2 billion in health care costs.

That’s why Julie Schafer, chief business officer for ElderCare Companies, said the state would benefit from a program that better coordinates health screenings, health information and specifically targeted medical interventions.

“This program was designed to keep those folks in their homes and out of the nursing homes by saving lives but also greatly reducing the burden that it would add to New Jersey Medicaid,” Schafer said.

Falls caused more than 600 deaths in New Jersey in both 2019 and 2020, according to New Jersey State Health Assessment Data, more than double the level from 20 years ago.

Deaths averaged around 520 a year in the decade ending in 2020, up from around 352 in the decade before that.

As the population ages, and as people deal with the side effects of medications, and now as some people grapple with the symptoms of long COVID, ElderCare Companies chief executive officer Paula White said the issue is only getting bigger.

“During COVID, I got a million calls from doctors saying, ‘What can we do? Our seniors are falling like crazy,’” White said.

Schafer said the cost increases pressuring nursing homes are about to accelerate but that a fall prevention program could help.

“We have yet to see the aftermath that’s going to hit the nursing homes due to the pandemic,” Schafer said. “The isolation, the falls, the medical – we are just about to start to see it.”

The pilot program endorsed by the Senate health committee would be modeled on similar efforts in Florida and Pennsylvania. It would spend $11.7 million over three years on a program focused on 6,000 Medicaid recipients that, if it proves beneficial, could then expand.

“This bill, if done the way it is designed, will reduce nursing home admissions by 65% and it will hospitalizations by 52%,” Schafer said.

The fall-related death rate among white residents aged 65 and over is about double the rates among Blacks, Hispanics and Asians, according to New Jersey State Health Assessment Data, and the rate among males is 1.4 times the rate among females.

(New Jersey State Health Assessment Data)
(New Jersey State Health Assessment Data)
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Michael Symons is the Statehouse bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com

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