Second Bill Added to ‘Code Blue’ Package Would Allow Healthcare Providers and Social Workers to Deliver On-Site Services to the Homeless During Cold Weather Emergencies
The New Jersey Senate has passed legislation sponsored by Senator Robert Singer (R-Monmouth, Ocean) and Senate Republican Leader Tom Kean (R-Union, Morris, Somerset) to ensure at-risk individuals who turn to a warming center for shelter during a Code Blue alert have access to lifesaving services during their stay.
Sens. Robert Singer & Tom Kean continue efforts to strengthen Code Blue by pushing for legislation that will ensure at-risk individuals who go to a shelter during a Code Blue alert have access to lifesaving services during their stay. The bill, S-3511, passed the Senate on May 30, 2019.
“Although shelters often experience a higher demand during Code Blue season, more often than not, a person in crisis will show up during a snowstorm, and leave without knowing where to go next. We may not get another chance to help that person. That’s unacceptable,” Singer said.
“People should have access to the support they need, when and where they need it. This bill will solve that problem, by ensuring the right personnel are on the ground, ready and willing to answer any questions and provide quality care to those in need, before the storm ends,” Singer added.
Today’s passage of S-3511 represents another step forward in the Senators’ ongoing efforts to strengthen New Jersey’s Code Blue regulations, which were signed into law in 2017 by Governor Christie.
Just last February, Singer and Kean answered local calls for action by introducing related legislation, S-3422, to change New Jersey’s Code Blue standards so that an alert is triggered at 32 degrees, regardless of precipitation.
Currently, a Code Blue is triggered when temperatures drop to 32 degrees with precipitation, or 25 degrees with no precipitation. That standard became especially problematic last December, when homeless people were turned away from warming centers in Toms River even though it was 27 degrees, because conditions were freezing, but dry. Those stories, and the calls for action by local officials, prompted Senators Singer and Kean to introduce legislation to improve Code Blue.
The current Code Blue law also requires county offices of emergency management to coordinate with municipalities with a documented homeless population of at least 10 people to develop consistent Code Blue alert plans throughout the county. After a county emergency management coordinator declares a Code Blue, local law enforcement officers are notified so they can go out on patrols and locate at-risk individuals.
Senator Singer and Kean’s S-3511, as passed by the State Senate today, would take Code Blue to the next level, by authorizing the New Jersey Commissioner of Health to establish guidelines for offering certain healthcare and social services to at-risk individuals at a warming center.
Under the bill, these services could include vaccinations, physical and mental health screenings, and referrals for substance abuse treatment and various social services.
S-3511 would also authorize a coordinator to create a volunteer registry of healthcare workers, social service providers, and support personnel who could consent to voluntarily provide these services at a warming center during a Code Blue alert.
The legislation states that these volunteers would be protected by New Jersey’s Good Samaritan law, meaning that they would not be liable for any civil damages as a result of their efforts to provide care or treatment in good faith during a Code Blue alert.
“When we introduced legislation to improve Code Blue last winter, we knew that we had more work to do on behalf of the thousands of homeless and nearly homeless people in New Jersey who need our help,” Senator Kean said. “I advocated for enacting Code Blue statewide back in 2017 because I strongly believe that everyone deserves a safe place to stay warm, and the support they need to get back on their feet after the storm.
“Having people on-site to complete screenings and provide information about the services available is the best chance we have to help a family in crisis grow beyond their current challenges. This legislation will transform those moments of crisis into new, healthy starts. It’s the proactive change that every family in need deserves,” Kean added.
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