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Advocacy Effort Focused on Mental Health System Fixes

Wednesday, March 27, 2024

An advocacy effort by NewBridge Services, Community Hope and the Mental Health Association of Essex and Morris urging improvements to New Jersey’s mental health care system involved recent meetings with state Sen. Anthony Bucco and Assemblywoman Aura Dunn.

One of the biggest concerns is lengthy wait times for individuals who experienced a psychiatric crisis to access appropriate inpatient care, instead languishing in hospital emergency departments, NewBridge CEO Michelle Borden said. In September, Gov. Phil Murphy signed a law that doubles to six days the time a patient who was involuntarily committed can be held in a hospital emergency department.

Advocacy for Quicker Treatment, More Group Homes

“Efforts should be made to ensure that individuals receive appropriate care in the least restrictive environment possible,” Bucco wrote in a March 21 letter to the state commissioners of the Department of Health and the Department of Human Services. The nonprofits’ leadership met with Bucco last month.

NewBridge, Community Hope and MHA highlighted the need for creating more community residences for people with serious mental illness, commonly known as group homes. Patients of state psychiatric hospitals often need round-the-clock supervision when they are released, yet the shortage of these residences means some patients are discharged to arrangements that don’t meet their needs, Borden explained. And since the state prioritizes group home beds for people being discharged from state hospitals, “those who relapse in other community settings may only have an increased chance of access to a group home after an inpatient stay,” she said.

In his letter to the commissioners, Bucco wrote: “Individuals with serious mental illness must have access to appropriate and supportive living arrangements that cater to their unique needs and promote their recovery and well-being.”

The nonprofits also advocated for an increase in supportive housing options and better pay mental health workers. They called for increased state funding to nonprofits so they can compete with the for-profit sector on attracting qualified staff. They again urged the state to increase spending to agencies that provide housing for building/property maintenance, and to incentivize charitable giving by offering a state level income tax reduction.

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