Bill calls for creating panel to review state-run mental health facilities

TRENTON –  The state Senate will vote on a bill Monday that would create a 10-member legislative panel to study the effectiveness of state-run psychiatric and developmental disability facilities.

The proposed bill to create the panel, known as ACR156, sponsored by Richard Codey, (D-27), of West Orange, and Joe Vitale, (D-19) of Woodbridge, calls for studying the costs of the facilities and the level of care provided to patients.

The legislative committee will have five state senators and five members of the Assembly. In keeping with a bipartisan tone, the majority party from each chamber could have no more than three members sitting on the panel, according to the bill.

Ideas have been proposed to shut down some of these state-run health facilities, such as the Vineland Developmental Disabilities Center, as a way for the state to save money, as well as to provide the patients an improved quality of life by transferring them to more intimate-setting, community-based facilities.

The legislative panel bill would review such subjects as short- and long-term needs of patients by looking at things such as housing needs, medication and treatment.

Other things they will look for include:

*The effects the closure of such facilities would have, or have had, on hospitals and homeless shelters, among other facilities;

*The frequency of readmission rates and referrals;

*The amount of possible cost savings through the outsourcing of certain services currently provided at the state-run facilities;

*Waiting lists of patients trying to enter state-run or community-based medical facilities;

*Availability of services like crisis management, skills training, recreation programs, among other programs;

*A review of costs revolving around staffing, overtime, renovation and capital improvement projects;

The panel also will be charged with exploring the feasibility of putting a moratorium on state-run facilities from taking in new patients, as it aims to downsize such facilities over a  five-year period.

At a Senate budget hearing, groups like the New Jersey Association of Community Providers and Advocates for Alternatives Inc. along with Community Options Inc., have all called for the state to embrace the community facility model, calling the institution model antiquated and far too costly. 

ACR156 also promotes such facilities.

“The State should encourage the expansion of the statewide community mental health system in order to lessen inappropriate hospitalizations and reliance on psychiatric institutions, and enable state and county community-based psychiatric services to provide the rehabilitative care needed by persons with mental illness,” the bill states. Bill calls for creating panel to review state-run mental health facilities