Bill To Create Specialized Care Facilities For Patients With Huntington’s Disease Advances

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TRENTON – Legislation to create specialized care nursing facilities for the treatment and care of patients with Huntington’s Disease was advanced Thursday by a Senate panel.

“There is a real need to establish specialized care for Huntington’s patients,” said Assemblyman Peter J. Barnes III (D-Middlesex). “The quality of life of patients and their families should not erode completely, simply because of the disease. To prevent that requires specific supervision and care, 24/7, especially in the late stages of the disease.”

Huntington’s Disease is a hereditary neurological disorder that instigates a programmed degeneration of brain cells in sufferers, causing uncontrolled movements, loss of intellectual faculties and emotional disturbances. It is a familial disease, passed from parent to offspring via genetic mutation. The child of a Huntington’s parent has a 50 percent chance of inheriting the disease gene.

Early symptoms of Huntington’s include: mood swings; depression; irritability; trouble driving; difficulty learning new things; difficulty remembering facts; and increased difficulty in decision making. As the disease progresses, concentrating on intellectual tasks becomes more and more difficult and Huntington’s sufferers have difficulty feeding themselves and swallowing.

“Individuals with degenerative brain disorders require a level of care that few places in the state can provide,” said Assemblyman Patrick J. Diegnan (D-Middlesex). “Creating a place where they can receive the specialized care they need is the only humane thing to do for Huntington’s patients and their families.”

The bill (A-387) would require the state Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) to designate two facilities in the state – JFK Hartwyck Nursing, Convalescent and Rehabilitation Center at Cedar Brook and Leisure Chateau Care and Rehabilitation Center in Lakewood – as specialized care nursing facilities for individuals requiring long-term care for the treatment of Huntington’s Disease.

Currently, JFK Hartwyck at Cedar Brook is New Jersey’s only Medicaid-approved Special Care Nursing Facility (SCNF) for the treatment of patients with Huntington’s Disease, with a capacity to care for 24 Huntington’s patients.

This measure would expand the SCNF licensed beds at JFK Hatwyck at Cedar Brook and extend a SCNF designation to Leisure Chateau. Under the SCNF designation, the facilities would receive a $339-per-day Medicaid reimbursement, as opposed to the $193.48-per-day rate for typical long-term patient care.

Under the bill, the DHSS would be required to:

  • Issue a SCNF license with 40 beds for the current Huntington’s Disease unit at JFK Hartwyck at Cedar Brook;
  • Issue a SCNF license with 40 beds for the creation of a Huntington’s Disease unit at Leisure Chateau;
  • Continue the existing Medicaid participation agreement for specialized care of Huntington’s patients;
  • Authorize JFK Hartwyck at Cedar Brook and Leisure Chateau to expand their Huntington’s Disease unit license and Medicaid provider agreement upon demonstration that there is appropriate utilization and future need; and
  • Adopt admission and discharge criteria for SCNF serving persons with Huntington’s Disease, which will also serve as the prior authorization criteria for Medicaid coverage.

“The ramifications of this disease are devastating – in late stages patients must be hand fed meals and require intensive intervention for even the simplest of tasks, like sitting up or going to the bathroom,” said Assemblywoman Linda Stender (D-Union). “We have the capability to better serve this segment of our state’s population, so that their last days may be lived with a modicum of comfort and dignity.”

“The terrible thing about Huntington’s Disease is that patients progressively get worse,” said Assemblyman Jerry Green (D-Union). “If it is possible to give patients and their families the option of slowing or combating the ravages of this terrible disease through expanding access to the proper specialized care, we must seize the opportunity to do so.”

The bill was released by the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee. It was approved 63-4-10 by the Assembly in June.


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