Pet therapy provisions in the New Jersey Skilled Nursing Facility Manual

Are you watching out for a loved one or a client who resides in a nursing home? You will want to become familiar with some of the provisions in the State’s regulations for skilled nursing facilities. In this series of posts I will talk about some sections of the Code and its appendices that are useful for a patient’s advocate to know about.

Let’s start with the provisions about pet therapy. Can a resident of a nursing home be visited by their pets? Can a resident of a nursing home bring in a pet to live with them? Facilities are permitted to establish protocols that enable a resident to have a pet as a companion or to receive visits from animals that are residents of the nursing home or are brought in as visitors. The details are in Appendix A, which is found at page 105-107. Appendix A.

The idea of bringing animals into nursing homes for pet therapy isn’t new. The NY Times did this piece about it in 1987, and  researcher H.M. Hendy at the National Institutes of Health published a study that same year in the International Journal of Aging and Human Development which was a follow-up study of the effects of pet visits vs. human visits on residents’ alertness and other indicators of contentment and satisfaction.

Under the New Jersey program, allowable companion pets are dogs, cats, non-carnivorous birds, domestic rabbits, gerbils, hamsters, guinea pigs and fish. Reptiles, ferrets and other wild animals are not permitted. The facility itself (or a staff person or other party) can own and maintain the animals,   or  a resident can own the animal and keeps it on the premises. Any animal that resides at the facility more than 4 hours a day is referred to as a “residential pet.” Appendix A contains explicit requirements regarding the health and safety of such animals.

There is a category called “visiting pets.” If pets are brought in so that the resident can visit with the pet, the party bringing it in must abide by certain requirements. Dogs and cats must be vaccinated, housebroken, and not in estrus (not “in heat”) at time of visit. Dogs must be licensed and tagged. The owner must accompany the animal and is responsible and liable for its behavior while on the premises. Visiting birds are not permitted, but hamsters, gerbils, guinea pigs, domestic rabbits, rats and lab mice may visit.

Resident pets and visiting pets cannot be allowed into certain areas such as nursing stations, drug preparation areas, linen storage areas and sterile supply rooms, for example. Food handlers may not be involved in the cleanup of animal waste. There must be a pet-free area within the facility so that residents can avoid undesired contact with animals. 

If you want to read the State’s entire manual of requirements for skilled nursing facilities, here it is. — Chapter 8:39 of the NJ Administrative Code.

A person who moves into a skilled nursing facility for long-term care is a resident, not a patient, and the SNF is their new home. Not only is an individualized plan of care required, but many protections and rights which  people have in their communities follow them into this new residence. Vigilant, attentive and creative advocacy can assure a good quality of life for your loved one in a senior care facility.

For advice and advocacy on senior care and elder law issues, call us at ……732-382-6070

 

Tips on the nursing home admissions process

The need to place a beloved family member in a nursing home may be one of the most harrowing and heartbreaking decisions a person has to make. Not only is there a terrible sense of guilt and failure, but the sheer cost of a single month in a nursing home is staggering, and leaves the family with a bleak view of their future security. They feel vulnerable, because they are at the mercy of forces they cannot control, and are thrust into a world full of acronyms, shorthand and procedures they have never encountered.

At the time of application for admission, the applicant needs to provide medical information that reports the individual’s clinical condition, diagnoses, relevant recent medical history, and treatment needs, so that the facility can make an informed decision about whether it can meet the needs of the resident. This will need to be coordinated with the physician(s) at home or the hospital discharge planner, as the case may be. Although all facilities are licensed to provide the full range of services needed for a long-term nursing home resident (with the exception of ventilator services that are beyond the scope of this article), certain facilities are known informally for better handling certain kinds of situations. It could be that an applicant is denied admission due to presence or recurrence of infection, or some documented, serious behavioral disorders. For instance, a particular resident may require a private room or extra supervision. The resident may have a unique degenerative medical condition such as ALS, and would do better in a facility that has specialized services available. Or a resident may require psychiatric placement instead of an “ordinary” nursing home.

Admissions contracts should be signed by the resident himself, but can also be signed by the spouse, a Guardian or an Agent under Power of Attorney. When a fiduciary signs on behalf of a resident, the fiduciary is signing in their fiduciary/representative capacity, and is assuring the facility that they will manage the income and assets as authorized by law. There is no need for a family member to personally take on the duty to pay the nursing home bill. Commonly, a facility will ask the person who is handling the resident’s income and resources to sign as “Responsible Party.” This would amount to a personal guarantee. No one should sign as “responsible party” unless they voluntarily intend to personally guarantee the payment out of their personal assets. The Nursing Home Act (NHA), NJSA 30:13-1 to -17 prohibits a facility from requiring a third party to guarantee the bill.

The person agreeing to be Fiduciary for the resident needs to be aware that they still have obligations to arrange for the nursing home bills to be paid using the applicant’s funds, and to apply for Medicaid benefits in a timely way. See generally, Manahawkin Convalescent v. O’Neill, 217 N.J. 99, 85 A.3d 947 (2014) (fiduciary failed to turn over the income; facility sued; fiduciary counterclaimed for violations of Consumer Fraud Act; counterclaim dismissed, but Supreme Court expressed the need for contracts to be clearly worded).

If a resident is not Medicaid eligible, the nursing home’s rates can be determined by any factors it considers appropriate. The rate schedule has to be clearly and plainly disclosed in the contract. 42 CFR ‘ 483.12(c).  A nursing home cannot obligate a Medicaid-eligible resident to sign a private pay contract to gain admission or to continue residing in the nursing home. NJAC 8:85-1.4(b). On the other hand, if the resident has not yet been determined to be Medicaid eligible, and has not yet applied for Medicaid, he or she may voluntarily sign a private pay contract at time of admission. Once the individual becomes Medicaid eligible, that contract will be void. NJAC 8:85-1.4(c).

Typically, a nursing home will ask the new resident for the first month’s fee plus a one-month security deposit, at the time of admission. If the resident expects to apply for Medicaid fairly soon, s/he needs to be sure that the security deposit has been spent on the care prior to the end of the spend-down period, so that once the resident thinks they are financially eligible, it doesn’t turn out that they have an excess resource sitting in the facility’s trust account. .

Call us for contract review and advocacy in the admissions process … 732-382-6070