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Codey Bill To Create Mental Health Facilities Task Force Advances In Senate Budget Committee

Measure Would Create a Panel of Experts to Advise Governor on Best Course of Action to Protect New Jerseyans Living with Mental Illness

TRENTON – A bill sponsored by Senator Richard J. Codey to create a task force of experts to advise the Governor on the best course of action to preserve mental health services for New Jersey residents living in one of the State’s psychiatric facilities was unanimously approved by the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee today.

“Even during our most difficult economic times, New Jersey has a responsibility to protect our most vulnerable residents,” said Senator Codey, D-Essex, and a long-time champion of mental health services in New Jersey. “Rather than looking only at the dollars and cents impact of cuts to our State’s psychiatric facilities and mental health care safety net, we need to look at the human impact, and how it will affect patients who depend on the care they receive at these facilities. This Task Force would be responsible for recommending an approach which balances cost effectiveness with humane and dignified treatment for people living with mental illness.”

The bill, S-2069, would create a 21-member State Mental Health Facilities Evaluation Task Force to analyze New Jersey’s investment in mental health services, particularly in terms of inpatient care received at the State’s psychiatric facilities. The Task Force would be charged with studying issues related to the care and cost of care for persons who are currently patients in one of the State’s psychiatric facilities, and identifying the most effective uses for these facilities, as well as ensuring that the current and long-term needs of the patients will continue to be met in the most appropriate setting to their individual care.

Specifically, the topics that the task force would be charged with evaluating would include: the current and long-term needs for inpatient psychiatric beds in the State; the availability of appropriate and adequate support services for persons with mental illness living in the community; the effects of patient displacement from the State’s psychiatric facilities on general hospital emergency departments, correctional facilities, and homeless shelters; the long-term psychiatric care needs of special populations, including geriatric populations; the readmission rates at State psychiatric facilities, short-term care facilities and county psychiatric facilities for the last four years; the cost savings that may be realized if ancillary services at the State psychiatric facilities are outsourced; a complete analysis of the costs of caring for patients at all State psychiatric facilities; and the feasibility of partial closure at each of the State’s psychiatric facilities, and actions needed to allow for the utilization of the most modern facilities.

“It may be that there’s a more cost-effective manner to provide inpatient psychiatric care for New Jerseyans in need,” said Senator Codey. “However, we should have a panel of experts devise a long-term strategy, rather than throw darts at a map to come up with the sort of cost savings we’re hoping to squeeze out of the State’s mental health safety net. This Task Force would be responsible for identifying an appropriate game plan which preserves the quality of services while creating a more cost-effective model of care in the Garden State.”

The task force membership would include the Commissioner of the Department of Human Services, the Directors of the Divisions of Mental Health Services, Medical Assistance and Health Services, and Development Disabilities, two members each from the Senate and General Assembly, and 11 public members. The public members would represent county health administrators, mental health advocacy groups, the academic community, health care providers, and the families of people who have been or are currently patients in a State psychiatric facility. The task force would be required to submit its recommendations to the Legislature and the Governor no later than February 1, 2011.

Senator Codey noted that this bill is in response to the Governor’s proposal in the FY 2011 Budget to shut down Hagedorn State Hospital in Hunterdon County by the end of FY 2011. Senator Codey, along with Senator Mike Doherty (R-Hunterdon and Warren) and several mental health advocates convinced Governor Christie to delay the closure at Hagedorn until after an exhaustive review of the State’s mental health services had been conducted. Hagedorn currently has a population of 279 patients and maintains the State’s only specialized gero-psychiatric ward.

“While I can sympathize with the Governor’s tough choices to present a balanced budget, if it eventually does make the most sense to close Hagedorn, we need to proceed carefully, so that we move forward with due diligence and compassion for the patients currently receiving care there,” said Senator Codey. “This task force ensure that we’re making the best possible choices, not only for the State’s bottom line, but for the continuation of care for people living with mental illness.”

The bill now heads to the full Senate for consideration.

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