Ensuring visits for people with special needs

The legislation allows immediate family to visit

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For about four months, visitors were not allowed at community-based residential facilities and group homes serving people with developmental disabilities, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Families found it difficult to be separated from their loved ones for such a long period of time.

On Aug. 4, the full New Jersey Assembly voted 75-0 to approve the legislation.

The legislation would require the Division of Developmental Disabilities in the Department of Human Services, in consultation with the Department of Health, to develop guidelines for in-person visits at licensed community-based settings for individuals with developmental disabilities during the pandemic and future public emergencies.

Residents of group homes and other residential programs would be allowed to visit with their immediate family members and legal guardians.

Separation anxiety

The legislation was sponsored by Assembly members Nicholas Chiaravalloti (D-Hudson) and Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen).

Chiaravalloti represents the 31st Legislative District encompassing parts of Bayonne and Jersey City.

“We all depend on our families to get through difficult times,” Chiaravalloti and Vainieri Huttle said in a joint statement. “It’s heartbreaking to think that residents of community-based residential facilities and group homes were unable to see their loved ones, their support systems, during the frightening early days of the pandemic.”

Chiaravalloti and Vainieri said they understand that these restrictions were put in place for the safety of residents and their families, but lengthy separation can do enormous harm.

“Without regular visits – in some cases, daily – some residents felt isolated, anxious, or depressed,” they said. “Those with special needs like autism were distressed or confused by the disruption in routine and didn’t know where to turn.”

Now that there is a better understanding of how to combat COVID-19, including social distancing, face coverings, and screening and testing, families are allowed limited visits.

“However, we must ensure they will be able to stay connected should we see a second wave of the coronavirus,” Chiaravalloti and Vainieri Huttle said. “With this bill, we will ensure no resident in a community-based residential setting or a group home will have to face this crisis alone.”

The legislation would ensure that residential facilities serving people with special needs will allow visitors from residents’ immediate family or legal guardians in the event of another surge of COVID-19 and subsequent closures and restrictions.

For updates on this and other stories, check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Daniel Israel can be reached at disrael@hudsonreporter.com.