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Legislation sponsored by Assembly members Patrick J. Diegnan, Jr., Ruben J. Ramos, Jr., and Valerie Vainieri Huttle that would create the State Mental Health Facilities Evaluation Task Force has been signed into law.

The measure requires a review and assessment of the Christie administration’s plan to close Hagedorn Psychiatric Hospital, including its impact on New Jersey’s State psychiatric facility system.

“To put it bluntly, closing the only gero-psychiatric facility in the state would be a colossal mistake,” said Diegnan (D-Middlesex). “The top priority of this task force must be to take whatever actions are necessary to keep Hagedorn open. The patients and their families deserve nothing less.”

“Rushing the closure of Hagedorn would have been foolish and dangerous,” said Ramos (D-Hudson) “We saw how past relocation efforts failed with Marlboro and Ancora and no one wants a repeat of those mistakes. Before we take any action that will affect hundreds of mentally ill individuals, it’s important that we make sure that they are absolutely necessary.”

“Rather than simply guessing, or approaching the problem piecemeal, the task force will provide us with concrete data on the status of New Jersey’s mental healthcare network,” said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). “From there, we will be able to clearly see the best way to efficiently, safely and cost effectively serve the mentally ill community.”

The legislators sponsored the bill in response to a previously-proposed line item in Gov. Christie’s FY 2011 budget that would have closed the Senator Garret W. Hagedorn Gero-Psychiatric Hospital – the only geriatric psychiatric facility in New Jersey – at the end of the 2011 fiscal year. Thanks to a budget compromise reached in late June, Hagedorn Psychiatric Hospital is no longer slated for closure.

The decision to keep Hagedorn open was heavily influenced by the problems that arose following the closure of Marlboro Psychiatric Hospital in the mid-1990’s. Despite a three-year, phased in closure, the Marlboro closing resulted in severe overcrowding at other psychiatric hospitals, which, in turn, created severe problems in the protection and monitoring of patients. Hagedorn was scheduled to be closed in just one year.

At a minimum, the task force would be required to advise the Department of Human Services, on the following:

· the plan’s consistency with the United State’s Supreme Court Olmstead decision and the department’s July 2009 Olmstead settlement agreement;

· whether sufficient capacity and appropriate staff expertise will be made available in the remaining State psychiatric facilities to accommodate the current and future needs of patients requiring that level of care, including an evaluation of geriatric care;

· whether geographic accessibility for State psychiatric facility care is maintained throughout the State, while considering the option of specialization of care at a single location;

· whether the State psychiatric facility system can accommodate patients with a forensic background, while considering the option of specialization of care at a single location;

· whether the plan adequately examines the allocation of State reDests between the State psychiatric facility system and community system of care, while considering how to yield the most savings from the State psychiatric facility system; and

· the impact on other State and private agencies that share State-owned campuses, as well as the impact on area hospitals and the community mental health system.

The task force would include 21 members, as follows:

· the Commissioner of Human Services and the Directors of the Divisions of Mental Health Services, Medical Assistance and Health Services, and Developmental Disabilities in the Department of Human Services, or their designees, as ex officio members;

· two members each from the Senate and the General Assembly, to be appointed by the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the General Assembly, respectively, who in each case are to be members of different political parties;

· 13 public members who are residents of this state with a wide-range of expertise in health and mental health issues.

The task force will also be required to hold a minimum of three public hearings, in the south, central and northern parts of the state, respectively, with support from the state Department of Human Services. Ultimately, the task force will report its findings to the governor and Legislature, along with any recommended legislation no later than February 1, 2011. Upon delivery of the final report, the task force will be dissolved.