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Schaer, Vainieri Huttle, Sumter, Chiaravalloti & Lampitt Bills to Improve Access to Critical Behavioral Health Services Advanced by Senate Committee

Two bills Assembly Democrats Gary Schaer, Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Shavonda Sumter, Nicholas Chiaravalloti and Pamela Lampitt sponsored to significantly improve New Jersey’s approach to behavioral health crisis care by expanding services and access throughout the state were advanced Monday by a Senate committee.

The bills are the product of numerous roundtable discussions and meetings that Schaer held with professionals and stakeholders in the field of behavioral and mental health care.

“We heard concerns time and time again relating to crisis services throughout the state,” said Schaer (D-Bergen/Passaic). “The result is this legislation, which has gone through an extensive stakeholder process. Early intervention and support is paramount when it comes to behavioral health care. With these bills, we will be taking common sense steps to improve and modernize our services, benefiting patients and their families.”

The bills:

  • A-4468 (Schaer/Vainieri Huttle/Sumter/Chiaravalloti): Expands the Early Intervention Support Services (EISS) Programs, currently available in 11 counties – Atlantic, Bergen, Camden, Cumberland, Essex, Hudson, Middlesex, Mercer, Monmouth, Morris and Ocean – to provide for one program in each county. The EISS programs would provide rapid access to short term, recovery-oriented crisis intervention and crisis stabilization services for up to 30 days to an individual 18 years of age or older with a serious mental illness and would include, but would not be limited to, medication, therapy and case management services, to be offered at an on-site location other than a hospital or through outreach in the community.
  • A-4469 (Schaer/Vainieri Huttle/Lampitt/Sumter/Chiaravalloti): Provides for the Commissioner of Human Services to accept an application from a screening service to provide expanded mental health services. The expanded services would be tailored to meet the needs of those in its geographic area and would include, but would not be limited to, establishing a satellite program that is situated in a location separate from a screening service and provides services that emphasize outreach and early intervention. Screening services are public or private ambulatory care services that are designated by the commissioner to provide mental health services, including assessment, emergency and referral services to persons with mental illness in a specified geographic area.

“Early intervention programs are designed to do just that – intervene before a patient reaches a crisis point, thereby providing stabilization,” said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). “These services are critical in preventing the recurrence of a crisis and reducing the overutilization of hospital emergency departments. Coupling this with increased screening services will have a dramatic impact on behavioral health care in New Jersey.”

“One of the greatest obstacles standing in the way of effective behavioral health treatment is the ability to get to a patient early, before they are in the midst of a full-blown crisis,” said Sumter (D-Bergen/Passaic). “Expanding early intervention services and boosting screening services, will significantly improve access to treatment when it’s most effective: early.”

“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,” Chiaravalloti (D-Hudson). “By expanding EISS programs and other services, 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.”

“By establishing additional screening services in the form of mobile outreach, we have a much greater chance of reaching individuals with behavioral health issues, particularly those in crisis,” said Lampitt (D-Camden/Burlington). “Expanding this type of service delivery rather than adding facility-based screening centers will help ensure that treatment reaches those who need it, regardless of their location.”

“Studies show that people with untreated behavioral health problems visit an emergency room much more often than people who receive preventative care, and we know untreated behavioral health problems can lead to other physical problems that come with anxiety and stress,” added Schaer. “Our current services do an outstanding job, but we know we can always make them better. We need to do more. In the end, these bills will lead to better services and, more importantly, better lives.”

The measures, which were advanced by the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee, now await further Senate consideration.