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 yesterday, receiving final legislative approval.
“With New Jersey facing a budget crisis, and the national recession still having a major negative impact on State finances, the pressure is on to find cost savings anywhere we can,” said Senator Codey, D-Essex, and a long-time champion of mental health services in New Jersey. “However, when it comes to mental health services for our most vulnerable New Jerseyans, we simply have to draw a line in the sand. While we may be able to find cost efficiencies in the State’s mental health system, we need to do so in a manner that respects the integrity of mental health care and preserves needed services and quality of care for New Jerseyans suffering from 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.
“By putting a panel of experts to the task of finding cost efficiencies in the State mental health services safety net, we can be sure that we’re proceeding in a way that puts care first,” said Senator Codey. “New Jersey cannot take a step backwards when it comes to the quality of mental health services we provide to those in need. This task force would be able to identify cost savings while still ensuring the diversity and quality of services needed for the patients in our care.”
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.
“I’m thankful that at the end of the day, we were able to postpone a decision on Hagedorn until after a panel of experts conducts a full review of our State’s mental health system,” said Senator Codey. “We have a responsibility to the people of New Jersey – particularly those suffering from mental illness – to provide the best care and treatment possible at our State’s psychiatric hospitals, in-patient and out-patient treatment facilities and community-based care programs. This task force will look at the whole picture, and make recommendations for a streamlined, effective mental health system moving forward.”
The bill was unanimously approved by the Assembly earlier in the day yesterday, and now heads to the Governor to be signed into law.