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