Bill Creating Mental Health Facilities Evaluation Task Force Advances

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TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Assembly members Patrick J. Diegnan, Jr., Ruben J. Ramos, Jr., and Valerie Vainieri Huttle that would establish to create an evaluation task force for mental health facilities was released Thursday from the Assembly Budget Committee.

The legislators sponsored the bill in response to a line item in Gov. Christie’s proposed budget that would have closed the Senator Garret W. Hagedorn Gero-Psychiatric Hospital – the only geriatric psychiatric facility in New Jersey – at the end of the 2011 fiscal year.  Thanks to a budget compromise reached on the 21st, Hagedorn Psychiatric Hospital is no longer slated for closure.

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“To put it bluntly, closing the only gero-psychiatric facility in the state is a mistake,” said Diegnan (D-Middlesex).  “The top priority of this task force must be to take whatever actions are necessary to keep Hagedorn open.  The patients and their families deserve nothing less.”

“Rushing the closure of Hagedorn would be foolish and dangerous,” said Ramos (D-Hudson) “We saw how past relocation efforts failed with Marlboro and Ancora and no one wants a repeat of those mistakes.  Before we take any action that will affect hundreds of mentally ill individuals we should be sure that they are absolutely necessary.”

“Rather than simply guessing, or approaching the problem piecemeal, the task force will provide us with concrete data on the status of New Jersey’s mental healthcare network,” said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen).  “From there, we will be able to clearly see the best way to efficiently, safely and cost effectively serve the mentally ill community.”

The decision to keep Hagedorn open was heavily influenced by the problems that arose following the closure of Marlboro Psychiatric Hospital in the mid-1990’s.  Despite a three-year, phased in closure, the Marlboro closing resulted in severe overcrowding at other psychiatric hospitals, which, in turn, created severe problems in the protection and monitoring of patients.  Hagedorn was scheduled to be closed in just one year.

The bill (A-2866) would establish the “State Mental health Facilities Evaluation Task Force,” which would, at a minimum:

  • evaluate the current and long-term needs for inpatient psychiatric beds in the state
  • assess the availability of appropriate and adequate supportive services in the community;
  • evaluate the effects of patient displacement from state psychiatric facilities on general hospital emergency departments, corrections facilities and homeless shelters;
  • assess the long-term psychiatric care needs of special populations;
  • compare the readmission rates at state psychiatric facilities, short-term care facilities and county psychiatric facilities – by category or facility – during FY 2010 with the readmission rates for those facility categories during the prior three fiscal years, and compare the rate of referrals for treatment from screening services during FY 201 with the rate of referrals during the prior three fiscal years;
  • analyze and estimate projected cost savings that may be realized if ancillary psychiatric hospital services are outsourced;
  • provide a complete analysis of the costs of caring for patients at all state psychiatric facilities, including, but not limited to, a comparison among the state psychiatric facilities of their respective:
    – costs of care;
    – staffing ratios
    – overtime costs; and
    – costs of renovations and capital expenses projected over the next five years; and
  • examine the feasibility of partial closures at each state psychiatric facility and action needed to allow for utilization of the most modern facilities.

The task force would consist of 21 members, including:

  • the Commissioner of Human Services;
  • the directors of the divisions of Mental Health Services, Medical Assistance and Health Services and Developmental Disabilities;
  • two members each from the Senate and the General Assembly;
  • 11 public members from various health and mental health associations; and
  • two public members who have or have had a family member who is or was a patient in a state psychiatric facility.

The task force would be required to hold a minimum of three public hearings, in the south, central and northern parts of the state, respectively, with support from the state Department of Human Services.  The task force would report its findings to the governor and Legislature, along with any recommended legislation no later than February 1, 2011.  Upon delivery of the final report, the task force would be dissolved.

The committee unanimously released the measure.  It now heads to the Assembly Speaker, who decides if and when to post it for a floor vote.


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