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Sweeney Bill to Protect Mental Health Patients from Interrupted Service, Introduced

TRENTON – In an effort to protect New Jersey residents receiving publicly financed mental health, behavioral health and addiction services, Senate President Steve Sweeney introduced legislation that would ensure and improve the delivery of these services, without disruption, in all future state contracts. 
The bill, S-2708, would require state contracts to contain a commitment that service will not be disrupted or delayed by labor disputes.
“Mental and behavioral health services are critical to the health, safety and well-being of all New Jersey residents,” said Senator Sweeney (D-Gloucester/Salem/Cumberland). “The recipients of these services are our state’s most vulnerable population and any disruption, whether in the middle of a pandemic or not, can be life threatening and even endanger the public at large. These workers are essential and they deserve all the protections we can provide, but we cannot let disputes result in walkouts – they are simply too vital.”
Under a temporary provision in the bill, during the COVID-19 State of Emergency service providers contracted with the state are required to outfit their employees with proper personal protective equipment, regular testing, reporting and training.
“The people of New Jersey need behavioral health services now more than ever,” said Susan Cleary, President of AFSCME District 1199J National Union of Hospital and Healthcare Employees. “In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, ensuring that workers have the ability to be part of the discussion and a voice in how these services are delivered is so important. We applaud Senate President Sweeney for introducing this bill.”
“The behavioral health system is already overwhelmed in New Jersey and the people who do this work every day must be part of the discussion around how we handle the increased need for mental health and substance abuse treatment,” said Steve Tully, Executive Director of AFSCME New Jersey Council 63. “This bill is the first step in giving workers a voice in how to best address things like high caseloads, high turnover and burnout rates, and raising the standards for behavioral health workers. We appreciate Senate President Sweeney recognizing the need for workers to have a voice and introducing this bill.”