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New Legislation to Protect the Elderly

By Dr. Maureen Marzolla-Persi

Starting this fall, elderly residents in New Jersey nursing homes, assisted living and other long-term facilities could benefit from additional protections designed to ensure law enforcement is looped into possible criminal abuse cases.

Governor Christie signed a bipartisan bill on August 7, 2017, that requires more than 900 state-regulated facilities to contact police within 24 hours if they suspect abuse, neglect, exploitation, or any other criminal conduct toward elderly residents. It also holds both workers and the facility responsible if the call isn’t made with the required time frame.

Outreach to law enforcement will be mandatory when “Peggy’s Law” takes effect in less than two months. The law is named for 93 year-old Peggy Marzolla, who died in 2010, having sustained a broken eye socket, cheekbone, jaw, wrist and gashes on her shin. Her assisted living facility in Brick, New Jersey, informed her daughter, Dr. Maureen Marzolla-Persi, that her mom had accidently slipped backwards on baby powder in her bathroom. Her daughter found the excuse flimsy and also saw a failure on the part of the Office of the Ombusman to properly investigate the incident. This drove Dr. Persi to lobby for better protection for the institutionalized elderly in the state, a lobby effort that took seven years.

After hundreds of phone calls, letters, emails and testifying before the New Jersey senate and assembly, Dr. Persi’s cry that all citizens of the state need and deserve the same protection under the law was finally heard and acknowledged.

“When families put their loved ones in the care of a nursing facility, or assisted living facility, they expect that the facility will treat their loved one properly and with respect,” said Senator James Holzapfel (R-Ocean), sponsor of the bill. “If an employee of one of these homes has the slightest suspicion that something may be awry, it should be their duty to report it.”

‘Employees have to be the first line of defense against abuse,” said Senator Diane Allen (R-Burlington), the other sponsor of the bill. “They see the residents every day and they will know when something isn’t right. The families of senior citizens have always counted on employees to do the right thing. Now the State of New Jersey demands it.”

“They said that it couldn’t get done, but I did it!” said Marzolla-Persi. “I didn’t have donors, teams of people or large committees,” she said, adding, “But I got the job done. I feel like I can sleep peacefully knowing that the institutionalized elderly of New Jersey finally have an added layer of protection they need and deserve.”

Dr. Maureen Marzolla-Persi was formerly the principal of Forest and Linden Avenue Schools in Glen Ridge, New Jersey, before she retired to become her mother’s full-time caregiver.