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Assembly Approves Verrelli, Vainieri Huttle & Benson Bill to Allow Graduate Students Studying Mental Health to Graduate or Start Residencies Early Amid COVID-19 Pandemic

(TRENTON) – In response to the COVID-19 public health emergency, graduate students in their final year of studies to become a psychiatrist, psychologist, professional counselor, clinical social worker or other mental healthcare professional would have the option to graduate or be matched with a residency or clinical program early under a bill approved Monday by the full Assembly, 70-0.

The measure (A-4174) is sponsored by Assembly Democrats Anthony Verrelli, Valerie Vainieri Huttle and Daniel Benson.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has turned our daily lives upside down. At times many of us have felt scared, confused, disappointed, lonely and panicked,” said Verrelli (D-Mercer, Hunterdon). “While physical health is an obvious priority in this crisis, we must not forget the importance of taking care of our mental health.”

Under the legislation, higher education institutions would be able to allow final-year graduate students in mental healthcare programs to graduate or start residencies or clinical programs early during the 2020-2021 and 2021-2022 academic years.

Students would need to have completed all required coursework, and institutions of higher education would appoint a staff member to mentor them during participation in the residency or clinical program.

“The measures we’ve needed to take to protect our physical health in this pandemic have taken a toll on the mental health of too many New Jerseyans,” said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). “Isolation from our families can be especially hard, particularly for our senior citizens. Now more than ever, we need mental health professionals on the front lines to help us through this emergency.”

“Since the beginning, New Jersey has taken steps to increase the number of doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers responding to COVID-19,” said Benson (D-Mercer, Middlesex). “We’ve allowed retired and foreign healthcare professionals to join the frontlines, which helped us through the darkest days of this crisis. Our next step should be to allow graduate students in mental health fields to join the workforce early to assist in our road to recovery.”

The bill now heads to the Senate for further consideration.