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Assembly Panel Approves Schaer & Vainieri Huttle Bill to Create Real-Time System to Track Available Psych Beds

An Assembly panel on Monday approved legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Gary Schaer and Valerie Vainieri Huttle to create a “real-time” system to track the number of psychiatric beds available statewide to treat behavioral health issues.

Specifically, the bill (A-4341) requires the development and maintenance of a data dashboard report, which is to collect and track daily information about the number of open beds that are available for treatment in each residential facility in the state that provides behavioral health services and receives state or county funding.

“Over the past year, we’ve hosted a number of roundtable discussions and meetings on issues related to behavioral and mental health care and professionals in the field continuously raised the need for increased bed capacity,” said Schaer (D-Bergen/Passaic). “Despite that, the administration cancelled a recent call for more psychiatric beds. Therefore, this legislation is designed to help us get a better handle on the beds that are available within our system and help behavioral health providers identify them quickly.”

These facilities include, but are not limited to: a psychiatric facility (a state or county psychiatric hospital or psychiatric unit of a county hospital); psychiatric unit of a general hospital (an inpatient unit restricting services to care of voluntarily admitted people with mental illness); short-term care facility (an inpatient, community-based facility providing acute care and assessment services); and special psychiatric facilities, (a public or private hospital which provides voluntary and involuntary mental health services).

“The systematic closure of psychiatric hospitals over the last half century has left most states with a serious shortage of inpatient treatment options, forcing many patients to wait endlessly in emergency rooms until a bed opens,” said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). “A real time system to track the availability of existing beds will help ensure that our existing resources are maximized and people are treated more quickly.”

The information in the data dashboard report is to be prominently displayed on the website of the Department of Human Services (DHS), made available to the public upon request, through the Statewide 2-1-1- telephone system, and made available using any other means that the Commissioner of DHS deems appropriate.
Each residential facility provided for in the bill is to submit to the data dashboard report, no less than once a day, information advising of the number of open beds that are available.

Based on that daily information, the data dashboard report would include, by county: the address and telephone number of the residential facility; the type of services provided by the facility and its licensed bed capacity; and the number of open beds that are available for the provision of residential behavioral health services on that day.

The state Division of Mental Health and Addiction Services is to oversee the development and maintenance of the data dashboard report, and the commissioner is authorized to solicit funds and accept contributions for the purpose of the development and maintenance of the report.

The bill was approved by the Assembly Human Services Committee, chaired by Vainieri Huttle.