Peggy's Law offers comfort for children of elderly parents

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'Peggy's Law,' the bill whose name honors her mother, requires workers at state-regulated facilities

The nightmare Peggy Marzolla and her family endured while she was under the care of a Brick nursing home has led to increased protections for residents of the state's nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.

The 93-year-old woman died in 2010, within months of being injured in the facility - injuries that included a broken eye socket, cheekbones and wrist, among other damages.

The staff chalked it up to an accidental fall, but Marzolla's daughter wasn't having any of it. The flimsy excuse, and what she saw as a failure by the state to follow up, drove Maureen Persi to lobby for better protections for institutionalized seniors.

"Peggy's Law," the bill whose name honors her mother, requires workers at state-regulated facilities that care for senior citizens to contact police promptly if they suspect any of their residents are experiencing abuse, exploitation or other criminal harm.

Under current law, staff members are required only to report such cases to the state's Office of the Ombudsman for the Institutionalized Elderly, but not to the police.

Gov. Chris Christie signed the new measure Monday. In addition to mandating police notification within 24 hours of an incident - or two hours if an injury is involved - it also requires the ombudsman's office to offer a round-the-clock hotline for complaints.

At present, that hotline responds to calls in person only during business hours.

Bringing law-enforcement officials into the picture from the beginning adds an extra element of safety in places where safety should be everyone's No. 1 priority.

Recognize, prevent and report elder abuse | Opinion

Placing a loved one in a facility is often one of the most heart-wrenching decision care-givers can make. Many have exhausted other options in the community, and turn to nursing homes as a last resort - invariably wracked with guilt as they sign the papers to admit Mom or Dad.

Peggy's Law should offer them a measure of comfort.

"When families put their loved ones in the care of a nursing home or other assisted-living facility, they expect that they'll be treated properly and with respect," says state Sen. Jim Holzapfel (R-Ocean).

The lawmaker, who represents Brick, worked with Sen. Diane Allen (R-Burlington) as well as with bill sponsor Assemblywoman Sheila Oliver (D-Essex) for more than six years to bring the legislation to fruition.

To be sure, the vast majority of the 380 nursing homes and 500-plus other long-term care facilities in the state employ caring and competent workers. Good, decent facilities abound.

But when the unthinkable happens, when residents face abuse or worse, Peggy's Law exists to stand guard - to make sure, in Oliver's words, that this type of misbehavior does not go overlooked or swept under the carpet.

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Peggy's Law offers comfort for children of elderly parents

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