The Toms River resident's one-woman lobbying effort in memory of her mother, a Brick resident, Peggy's Law was signed by Christie at last.
Peggy's Law (S-1219), named for Peggy Marzolla, who died in 2010, was signed into law by Gov. Chris Christie on Monday. It aims to protect senior citizens in assisted living facilities from abuse by requiring suspected abuse be reported to law enforcement.
"I started to cry I was so happy," said her daughter, Maureen Marzolla-Persi, who has been fighting for passage of Peggy's Law since her mother's death in April 2010. It's taken Hundreds of phone calls and emails pushing, prodding, nagging legislators. She's spent hours spent talking to others whose family members were abused, and testifying before the Legislature. And more calls nagging the governor's office about signing the bill since it was passed by both houses at last on June 29.
It's bittersweet, she admits.
"It's too late to help my mother," Marzolla-Persi said, but she's hopeful it will protect other elderly patients and prevent others families from suffering the anguish she faced. In February 2010 Marzolla-Persi received a call late one night that her mother, an Alzheimer's patient, had slipped on some powder and been taken to Ocean Medical Center in Brick. Hospital staff, however, raised questions about the injuries Peggy Marzolla had suffered, Marzolla-Persi told the Patch. Peggy Marzolla, who didn't retire from her job in the Paterson police department until age 81, had sustained a broken eye socket, a broken cheekbone, a broken jaw, a broken wrist, a badly bruised elbow, a gash on her left shin and welts on her back.
"The doctors and medical personnel who came into her room said, 'Well, what do you think really happened?'" Marzolla-Persi, of Toms River, has said.
Peggy Marzolla died 65 days after she was taken to the hospital. The incident eventually was investigated by the state Office of the Ombudsman for the Institutionalized Elderly, but it was never investigated by law enforcement. The ombudsman's office accepted the explanation the staff at the nursing facility gave.
Maureen Marzolla-Persi did not, and began her fight to ensure that future situations were investigated by someone outside the facility's staff.
The law requires any caretaker, social worker, physician, nurse or other staff member of a care facility who has reasonable cause to suspect that an elderly person is being abused or exploited to report it to local law enforcement. It also requires them to report such incidents to the Ombudsman of the Institutionalized Elderly within certain periods of time, depending on the kind of abuse.
"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,” said Sen. Jim Holzapfel (R-Ocean), who co-sponsored the legislation. “If an employee of one of these homes even has the slightest suspicion that something might be awry, it should be their duty to report it.”
“Employees have to be the first line of defense against abuse,” said Sen. Diane Allen (R-Burlington), the other co-sponsor. “They see their residents every day, and they will know when something isn’t right. The families of these seniors have always counted on the employees to do the right thing. Now the State of New Jersey demands it."
Marzolla-Persi told the Patch in 2015 that the eventual investigation of her mother's death by the ombudsman’s office did not result in any criminal charges nor any sanctions against the facility. It did, however, prompt her to mount the campaign that led to the passage and signing of Peggy's Law, though it took three introductions and six years to do it.
“I was a good girl; I did what they told me to do,” Marzolla-Persi said of the efforts she made to get her mother's case investigated. She never thought to call the police, she said, and no one suggested it.
Now, calling the police about suspected abuse will be the first step, one she hopes will spare other families the anguish she faced.
"They said it couldn't be done but I did it," Marzolla-Persi said of what amounted to a one-woman lobbying effort.
"I didn't have donors, I didn't have an organized committee," she said. "But I got it done. It's going to help the elderly of New Jersey."
"I feel like I can finally sleep peacefully tonight," Marzolla-Persi said.
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Woman's 7-Year Quest For 'Peggy's Law' On Elder Abuse Comes To Fruition