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Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen) issued the following statement today after co-chairing the Joint Legislative Panel on State Psychiatric Hospitals and Developmental Centers, which heard testimony today from stakeholders on the current state of affairs at New Jersey’s psychiatric hospitals and the needs of the state’s mental health patients.

“How we care for our residents with mental illnesses is one of the greatest long-term challenges we face as a state. This is going to require everyone to roll up their sleeves and work cooperatively to meet the needs of our most vulnerable. I want to thank my panel colleagues on both sides of the aisle for their cooperation and input as we work to address this critical issue.

“While we gained a good picture of our statewide mental health landscape today, this hearing also brought up countless questions that need to be answered before we move forward with the closure of any psychiatric hospitals.

“In particular, the administration claims that they cannot fully implement the new Involuntary Outpatient Commitment law because there are not enough resources available in the community, yet they claim there are enough community resources available to close psychiatric hospitals such as Hagedorn. This is a situation where you simply can’t have it both ways.

“To that end, I’m deeply disappointed that the administration failed to send Human Services Commissioner Jennifer Velez or at least a designee who could have helped provide answers to many questions.

“This overall debate is about trying to place people in the least restrictive environment possible to meet their mental health needs. However, Hagedorn, for the most part, is moving its residents into other psychiatric centers, which defeats the purpose of the Olmstead ruling.

“We have a lot more work ahead of us as we continue these hearings and I hope we’ll receive the cooperation necessary to address the needs of those suffering from mental illness and developmental disabilities,” said Vainieri Huttle.

Today’s panel was co-chaired by Vainieri Huttle and Senator Jeff Van Drew, and is also comprised of Senators Richard Codey, Joseph Vitale and Diane Allen and Assembly members Lou Greenwald, Cleopatra Tucker, Erik Peterson and Mary Pat Angelini.