Schaer, Benson & Verrelli Bill to Expand Critical Mental Health Screening Services Clears Assembly Panel

With the goal to make mental health care more accessible in New Jersey, legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Gary Schaer, Daniel Benson and Anthony Verrelli to expand mental health outreach and early intervention programs was approved Monday by the Assembly Appropriations committee.

“Early intervention programs are designed to do just that – intervene before a patient reaches a crisis point,” said Schaer (D-Bergen/Passaic).  “Therefore, these services are critical in preventing the recurrence of a crisis and reducing the overuse of hospital emergency departments. Expanding early intervention programs and increasing screening services prioritizes this important issue and will have a dramatic impact on behavioral health care in New Jersey.”

The bill (A-2389) provides for the Commissioner of Human Services to accept applications from designated screening services to expand mental health programs, including establishing satellite programs emphasizing outreach and early intervention. Screening services provide a variety of mental health programs, including assessment, emergency and referral services.

“If left untreated, mental illness can lead people who may be suffering in silence to engage in self-destructive behaviors that also affect their physical health,” said Benson (D-Mercer/Middlesex). “By expanding Early Intervention Support Services (EISS) and other programs, New Jersey can take a more comprehensive approach to health care and enable more of our residents to access effective, professional treatment as soon as possible.”

“In the U.S., one in five people experience mental illness. The same is true here in New Jersey, where an annual average of 933,674 New Jersey adults had a mental illness from 2011 through 2015, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services,” said Verrelli (D-Mercer, Hunterdon). “With so many people living with mental illness, it’s critically important that we take steps forward to make sure people have access the care they need.”

The measure also adds licensed marriage and family therapists to those eligible to become mental health screeners.

To apply to be a certified screener, a person must have one of the following credentials:

  • A master’s degree in a mental-health-related field from an accredited institution, plus one year of postmaster’s, full-time equivalent, professional experience in a psychiatric setting;
  • A bachelor’s degree in a mental-health-related field from an accredited institution, plus three years post-bachelor’s, full-time equivalent, professional experience in the mental health field, one of which is in a crisis setting;
  • A bachelor’s degree in a mental-health-related field from an accredited institution, plus two years post-bachelor’s, full-time equivalent, professional experience in the mental health field, one of which is in a crisis setting and currently enrolled in a master’s program; or
  • A licensed registered nurse with three years full-time equivalent, post-RN, professional experience in the mental health field, one of which is in a crisis setting.

The bill will now go to the Assembly Speaker for further consideration.