By MIKE CATALINI Associated Press
TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — State authorities called Thursday for a law requiring long-term care facilities to develop disease outbreak plans in response to the deaths of 11 children at a New Jersey rehabilitation center last year.
The call was included in a state Health Department report on the adenovirus outbreak at the Wanaque Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation.
“Ensuring that all staff are regularly trained in proper handwashing protocols and other infection control procedures is the best way to prevent the spread of respiratory viruses in long-term care facilities,” Health Commissioner Dr. Shereef Elnahal said in a statement.
One staff member and 36 residents, ranging in age from toddlers to teens, were diagnosed with a particularly severe strain of adenovirus in the outbreak at the facility in Haskell, which provides care to children and adults. Eleven children died.
The report recommended a new law that would require long-term care facilities to put in place detailed plans to prevent and respond to disease outbreaks. The department already has guidelines for the control of respiratory viral outbreaks but is calling for a statute to require such planning.
Among the other recommendations was that parents and guardians should be notified “immediately following an event of significance.” Some parents of the infected children told newspapers that they didn’t learn about the outbreak until reading about it in news reports.
On Thursday, Paul Fishman, an attorney working on behalf of the center, said Wanaque had already adopted the recommendations the state suggested.
“Everybody recognizes that if they can prevent what happened, they will do what they can to prevent that,” Fishman said in a phone interview.
The report follows the March announcement that the federal government fined the center $600,000 over what it said were lapses. Those included insufficient hand washing and problems with infection control procedures as well as a lack of involvement by the facility’s medical director and other management.
The center disputed those findings and has said it planned an appeal.
Adenovirus typically causes a mild cold or flu symptoms and usually poses little risk for healthy people.
The strain found in the rehab center outbreak — type 7 — is among the more potent types and sometimes causes more serious respiratory illness, especially among those with weak immune systems.
The children at the facility all had serious underlying health conditions, and many were on ventilators
The first symptoms showed up Sept. 26, and the state was notified of an outbreak Oct. 9, officials said.