New Jersey communities have seen a wave of behavioral health issues as a result of the pandemic. According to the CDC, throughout the US, between August 2020 and February 2021, the percentage of adults with anxiety and or depression symptoms increased from 36.4% to 41.5%.
Among younger people, the numbers are even more concerning. According to a study by the New Jersey Hospital Association (NJHA), between April through December 2020, the proportion of those 18 or younger coming into the emergency room (ER) with anxiety increased 74% compared to 2019. In this same age group, the proportion of ER visits relating to depression increased 84%.
To more comprehensively meet the mental health care needs of New Jersey residents in the communities they reside and to help relieve the burden on hospital emergency rooms, Assemblyman Louis Greenwald joined by fellow Assembly members introduced a legislative package focused on helping people navigate the mental health system and enabling more health centers to be able to provide this specialized care.
“During the pandemic, hospital emergency rooms were taking on an influx of patients seeking medical care for anything concerning mental health, from symptoms of depression and anxiety to more complex disorders,” said Assemblyman Greenwald (D-Camden, Burlington). “ER’s are not the best settings to handle mental health issues and are also the most expensive option for a patient. Many residents are struggling to navigate our complex behavioral health system and, as a result, they delay care until going to the ER is the only option.
“This legislation will help improve access to these services through partnerships with hospitals, managed care organizations, and community health centers. Through these innovative partnerships and programs, we will help residents more easily access critical behavioral health resources and improve mental healthcare throughout the State.”
The legislative package includes:
- (A-3595) (Lampitt/Park) – Requires health benefits plans and carriers to meet certain requirements concerning network adequacy and mental health care;
- (A-3596) (Haider/Greenwald) Requires DOH and DHS to publish an easily readable, step by step guide for community health centers that want to get licensed to provide integrated care;
- (A-3597) (Reynolds-Jackson/Benson/Greenwald) Sets up a zero-interest loan program to help community health providers provide integrated care;
- (A-3598) (Greenwald/Reynolds-Jackson) Creates a pilot program to Incentivize Hospitals to Transform Urgent Cares to provide 24/7 mental health care;
- (A-3599) (Greenwald/Benson/Park) Requires DHS to establish a two-year Regional Community Behavioral Health Pilot Program;
- (A-3600) (Benson/Greenwald) Establishes a pilot program to link Regional Health Hubs with Hospitals to help with patient coordination
The bills were introduced on Thursday, March 10.