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Vitale-Codey Bill To Establish Review Panel On Psychiatric Hospitals, Developmental Centers Approved

Measure Would Allow Legislature to Review Facilities for Vulnerable New Jerseyans, ‘Act Swiftly When Legislation is Needed’

TRENTON – A bill sponsored by Senators Joseph F. Vitale and Richard J. Codey to create the “Legislative Review Panel on State Psychiatric Hospitals and Developmental Centers,” was approved by the Senate today by a vote of 36-0, receiving final legislative approval.

“When it comes to care for our State’s most vulnerable populations, we need an exhaustive review to make sure we’re meeting their needs in the most comprehensive, cost-effective manner possible,” said Senator Vitale, D-Middlesex, and Vice Chair of the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee. “This bill would give the State Legislature the authority and the mandate to perform a top-to-bottom analysis of New Jersey’s psychiatric hospitals and developmental centers to make sure that people are getting the care they need at a cost that’s reasonable. At the end of the day, this bill would ensure a more complete, more sustainable system of care for New Jerseyans living with mental illness or developmental disability.”

“Even during tough economic times, we still have a responsibility to make sure that New Jersey residents living with mental illness or developmental disability receive proper and thorough care,” said Senator Codey, D-Essex, who became known as one of the most vocal advocates on mental health issues during his time as Governor. “Through this legislation, the State Legislature will get a crash-course in the problems facing care at facilities for this vulnerable segment of our population, and will be given the information needed to make policy decisions to improve that care. By performing a thorough review, we will also hopefully be able to act swiftly when legislation is needed.”

The bill, SCR-136, would create a 10-member panel of legislators to perform a comprehensive review of the State’s psychiatric hospitals and developmental centers. The review panel would be compromised of five members of the Senate, appointed by the Senate President, and five members of the General Assembly, appointed by the Speaker of the Assembly. No more than three of each group could be from the same political party, and the Senate President and Assembly Speaker would each appoint a co-chair to the panel.

The panel would be charged with:

• studying issues related to the care and costs of providing services to persons who are currently patients in the State’s psychiatric hospitals and developmental centers;

• developing a plan for the effective functioning of these facilities to ensure that current and long-term needs of patients and residents are met in the most cost-effective manner possible, and in the setting most appropriated to the person’s circumstances;

• and reviewing all relevant patient data for these facilities, and examining issues related to short-term care facilities, county psychiatric hospitals, and community-based care for persons with mental illness throughout the State of New Jersey, as well as community-based services, support programs, and residential options for persons with developmental disabilities throughout the State.

The resolution would direct the review panel to report its activities, findings, conclusions and recommendations to the Legislature within one year after the organization of the panel, but no later than 60 days before the close of the legislative session in which the resolution is adopted.

“This is about ensuring that New Jersey continues to treat people living with the stigma of mental illness or developmental disability with the decency, compassion and care that they deserve,” said Senator Codey. “We need to be sure that our psychiatric hospitals and developmental centers are helping, not hindering, these folks, and that care is being delivered in as efficiently and effectively as possible. I like forward to the review panel’s recommendations and look forward to working with my fellow legislators to ensure the best, most cost-effective care that we can for people in need.”

“Our State needs to review its investment in services provided for people with mental illness and developmental disability from time to time, and make sure we’re promoting the best care for the person at the best cost to the taxpayer,” said Senator Vitale. “This bill is about making sure that our current system is meeting individuals’ needs and is economically sustainable for future populations. Ultimately, the information gathered by the Legislative Review Panel will go a long way to informing the best public policy for individuals with developmental disability or mental illness moving forward.”

The resolution will now be filed with the Secretary of State. It was unanimously approved in the General Assembly in November of last year.

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