As the COVID-19 threat drags on, elderly New Jerseyans in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities continue to be blocked from seeing family and friends in person. Many may be quarantined in their own rooms or a specific wing of their respective facility to protect themselves or others from the respiratory illness.

To combat senior isolation during this crisis and future public emergencies, Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle, D-Bergen, is proposing a law that would mandate these facilities adopt a plan for the right technology and training to help keep seniors connected with the outside world. The bill requires the state Department of Health to oversee the project and get the ball rolling.

"It's important for them to stay connected to their family and loved ones, even if it's remotely," Huttle told New Jersey 101.5.

The bill also specifically addresses individuals with disabilities that may impede their ability to communicate, such as those who are blind, deaf or living with dementia. Under the measure, they're granted access to assistive technology for communication with loved ones.

Just weeks before COVID-19 started wreaking havoc on the state of New Jersey, Huttle was named chair of a new legislative committee that focuses specifically on challenges and services related to the state's oldest residents.

The Assembly Aging and Senior Services Committee had its inaugural meeting in late January.

"During this period of social isolation, I think it's critical that we maintain a commitment to mental health, especially for seniors," Huttle said.

Prompted during the COVID-19 threat by the discovery of a makeshift morgue at a New Jersey nursing home that was overrun by dead bodies, Huttle recently introduced legislation that would force long-term facilities to have space and refrigeration set aside for the proper storage of deceased individuals.

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