Menu JTA Search

Special to the JTA New York State Health Department Says Nursing Home Residents Must Get Kosher Food

SIGN UP FOR THE JTA DAILY BRIEFING

The New York State Department of Health has mailed regulations and guidelines to some 500 nursing homes throughout the state to implement a law requiring that kosher food must be provided to any nursing home resident who requests it, the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America (UOJCA) reported today.

The measure, the only state law of its kind, was signed into law by Gov. Hugh Carey in September, 1978, according to Julius Berman, UOJCA president.

Berman explained that the reason for the three-year delay in implementation stemmed from legal requirements that regulations and guidelines to implement such a law must be drafted — usually by the government agency given responsibility for implementation — and approved. An enforcement mechanism also must be developed and put in place, Berman added.

Berman said the Bureau of Health Care Standards of the Health Department was designated to prepare the regulations to implement the new law. He said the bureau named an advisory committee which met for the first time in January, 1979.

Orthodox Union representatives on the committee included Berman and David Merzel, UOJCA community relations director. Others were Dennis Rapps, executive director of the National Jewish Commission on Law and Public Affairs (COLPA); Rabbi Isaac Trainin, director of the Commission on Synagogue Relations of the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies; Rabbi Ephraim Sturm, executive vice president of the National Council of Young Israel; and Mark Stern, staff attorney for the American Jewish Congress. Several nursing home operators from around New York State also were named to the committee.

MOVE TO SPEED PROGRESS

Berman said that, at the advisory committee’s first hearing, it became clear the nursing home operators opposed the new law. To speed progress, James Tunny, director of the Health Care Standards Bureau, asked the Orthodox Union to call a meeting of kosher food vendors to learn whether they were interested in producing kosher food packages for nursing home residents, since only a few nursing homes in New York State are kosher.

On Feb. 26, 1980, a meeting was held at the UOJCA with kosher products manufacturers and distributors at which, Berman said, considerable interest was demonstrated in implementing the unique law and agreement shown that kosher food packages could be produced to meet the indicated need.

Another meeting was held at the UOJCA in March with Health Department nutritionists and dieticians participating. Berman said the purpose was to determine whether special diets of observant nursing home patients could be met by kosher frozen food packages. Confident that all nutritional standards could be met by the manufacturers, Tunny’s staff returned to Albany to draft preliminary regulations.

The preliminary regulations were circulated in August and the advisory committee was convened on Sept. 20 to discuss them. Berman said the important result of that meeting was that the nursing home operators recognized that state officials intended to implement the new law. One factor that helped, Berman said, was an indication from the state officials that there would be state reimbursement to the nursing homes for any additional costs of a kosher food diet. The added cost was a major concern of the nursing home operators.

The regulations had then to be put into final form, particularly the principles and practical applications of kosher food management and control. These are very comprehensive, Berman said, because, since the vast majority of nursing homes are not kosher, changes in kitchen and food handling procedures had to be spelled out.

Merzel drafted the two statements, which were then reviewed by the UOJCA Kashruth Division to assure complete compliance with the Jewish dietary laws. Rapps examined the two statements in terms of legal requirements. They were then sent to the State Health Department for review and final approval as regulations with the force of law.

Berman told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that some additional revisions were made by the state Health Department and that the final changes in the documents were circulated to nursing home and health-related facility administrators after they were adopted by the state department in principle last June 16.

NEED TIME TO PREPARE FACILITIES

Berman said most of the nursing homes, being non-kosher, will need to arrange separate space for kosher utensils, plus extra freezing space. He indicated he felt that for the first few months of implementation there would probably not be strict enforcement by Health Department inspectors because the nursing homes need time to prepare their facilities to conform to the regulations. Penalties for violations can range up to $1,000 per day per violation.

Berman also agreed that the number of inspectors, as for many similar state-mandated prograrms, would almost certainly be insufficient for the kind of consistent inspection needed to assure that the new law was being properly implemented.

Nevertheless, he said, the fact that the unprecedented law was in force, with substantial penalities for violations, was a gain for Orthodox Judaism and for the peace of mind of observant Jews forced by the infirmities of age to spend their remaining years in a nursing home.

NEXT STORY