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Gordon Bill Creating Pilot Program To Improve Children’s Access To Mental Health Treatment Advances

Creates ‘Collaborative Mental Health Care Pilot Program’ in Bergen County

TRENTON – In an effort to improve early intervention and treatment of mental health disorders in children, Senator Bob Gordon sponsored legislation to create a pilot program in Bergen County that would provide increased education and support to primary care physicians through collaboration with experts in the area of child mental health. The bill was approved today by the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee.

“In New Jersey, as in many states in the country, we are facing a shortage of child mental health clinicians which can prevent kids from getting the screening, diagnoses and treatment they need,” said Senator Gordon, D-Bergen and Passaic. “Since we know that early intervention and treatment of mental health disorders can make a real difference in the life of a child, we have to look at new and innovative methods of care delivery. This pilot program is a major step forward in doing that.”

The legislation (S-2818) would create a two-year pilot program in Bergen County that provides for a system of collaboration between primary care physicians and mental health care professionals to better address mental health disorders in children, which according to a national study issued recently, are increasing in prevalence nationwide. The study issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that millions of American children live with depression, anxiety, ADHD, autism spectrum disorders, Tourette syndrome and other mental health issues. One in five children experience a mental disorder during any given year, according to the CDC. And yet, federal officials say less than half of children get the help they need.

“One in five children suffers with a mental health disorder. However, too many of those who are in need of treatment do not receive adequate and required care,” said Senator Gordon. “This pilot will bring together experts within the field to provide a more collaborative system to make sure we are meeting the needs of our children and families when it comes to this critical care.”

The legislation will establish a “Collaborative Mental Health Care Pilot Program” modeled after programs in 24 states and developed to address a shortage of child psychiatrists, part of a national trend that often prevents children from accessing treatment. The program will provide a system of support to primary care physicians through the creation of a child mental health treatment team. The team would include child psychiatrists, primary care physicians, licensed social workers and administrative personnel. Senator Gordon said the bill is the first toward expanding mental health access for children statewide.

The legislation provides for the New Jersey Primary Care Child Psychiatry Collaborative to develop: an education program for primary care providers; a mental health care guide that, at a minimum, would include information about referrals, screenings, diagnoses, assessments and treatments; and a mental health resource guide for children and adolescents and their families. The pilot would also allow for a one-time direct consultation child psychiatric service when a patient, parent or physician requests or requires such services.

“Primary care physicians are on the front lines of providing care to our children. In addition, they play a significant role in prescribing medications to children as a way of providing treatment. Yet, very few have established relationships with mental health practitioners who they can consult with regularly and in a timely manner,” said Senator Gordon. “We have to ensure that doctors have the resources and support they need from experts in the field and are able to get advice on these important health matters. By bringing together primary care physicians, child psychiatrists and other professionals, this collaborative program will ensure that happens, which ultimately will lead to better treatment and healthier lives for our kids.”

The committee approved the bill by a vote of 9-0-1. It next heads to the full Senate for consideration.