New Jersey will add nearly 900 more treatment beds for people who are addicted to drugs and alcohol and suffer from a mental illness — expanding the state’s inpatient mental health system by almost 40 percent, Gov. Chris Christie has announced.
In 2015, 1,600 people in New Jersey died from heroin and opioid overdose — two times the national rate and a 22 percent increase from the year prior.
Christie also asked that doctors be required to limit the initial prescriptions they write for most of their chronic pain patients to five days, rather than the standard 30-day supply. The prescription could be renewed on the fourth day and expanded after an evaluation. A bill containing these two provisions along with others passed two legislative committees Monday.
Christie said the expansion “will ensure that individuals with the co-diagnosis of behavioral health and substance abuse issues will get the treatment they need to reclaim their lives, their families and their futures…Opioid addiction is a public health crisis and we must take aggressive action to get this crisis under control and save lives.”
The state is seeking a mix of inpatient and outpatient programs, with at least five percent set aside for people on Medicaid, and five percent for those who lack health insurance.
The treatment programs will be targeted for Atlantic, Cape May, Cumberland, Gloucester, Hunterdon, Middlesex, Monmouth, Morris, Ocean, Passaic, Salem, Sussex and Warren counties. Special attention will be paid to Cape May, Salem and Warren counties, where there are no inpatient psychiatric beds, according to the announcement.
Assemblyman Gary Schaer (D-Passaic) said he was gratified to hear of the governor’s announcement, noting it was just two years ago when the administration declined to seek more inpatient services.
“Based on our discussions with behavioral and healthcare professionals over the last several years, this need has been pressing and is long overdue,” Schaer said Wednesday. “The addition of more psychiatric beds to provide immediate medical attention in the midst of a crisis is a critical component and one I’m glad to see the administration addressing.”
Sen. Joseph Vitale (D-Middlesex), the health committee chairman, lauded the governor’s announcement, but also called attention to one of his bills that abolish the certificate of need process for mental health services — a move that could shave months off the regulatory review. “Eliminating the call will expedite the licensure of the beds,” he said.
“The governor is doing the right thing, at the right time for the right reasons,” said Robert Davison, executive director for the Mental Health Association of Essex County. “These beds are sorely needed.”
Also, the state Department of Human Services has announcemed that it was raising the reimbursement rates for psychiatrists and advance practice nurses who see Medicaid patients outside of a hospital. A psychiatrist who meets with a Medicaid patient for a 25-minute consultation, for instance, would be paid $119.85 compared to
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