VAINIERI HUTTLE, TUCKER & DIEGNAN BILL TO IMPROVE CARE AT DEVELOPMENTAL CENTERS & PSYCH HOSPITALS RECEIVES FINAL LEGISLATIVE APPROVAL

A measure sponsored by Assembly Democrats Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Cleopatra Tucker and Patrick J. Diegnan Jr. to improve the lives of those in psychiatric hospitals and developmental centers has received final legislative approval by the full Senate today by a vote of 36-0.

The legislation, which was approved 79-0 by the Assembly in November, now heads to the Governor’s desk.

The sponsors noted that the legislation is now timelier than ever with the Governor proposing the closure of the Vineland Developmental Center and an unspecified psychiatric hospital in his FY 2012 budget.

“As a society, we should be judged on how we treat our most vulnerable residents, including residents with developmental disabilities and psychiatric concerns,” said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen), who chairs the Assembly Human Service Committee. “No one can deny our system needs improving, but as we move to do so, we need to know exactly where we stand in caring for people with disabilities and mental health problems. That’s the goal of this bill.”

The bill (ACR-156/SCR-136) establishes the Legislative Review Panel on State Psychiatric Hospitals and Developmental Centers to study issues relating to the care and costs of providing services to persons in state psychiatric hospitals and developmental centers.

“In these tough fiscal times, we have to make sure we’re doing the right thing, both socially and fiscally,” said Tucker (D-Essex).

“We need to know whether we’re spending our money in a way that best serves individuals in residential and treatment settings, especially developmental centers and psychiatric hospitals operated by the state,” said Diegnan (D-Middlesex).

Under the bill, the Legislative Review Panel on State Psychiatric Hospitals and Developmental Centers would:

· Study issues relating to the care and costs of providing services to persons who are currently patients in state psychiatric hospitals and developmental centers;

· Develop a plan for the effective functioning of state psychiatric hospitals and developmental centers that will ensure that the current and long-term needs of patients and residents are met in the most cost-effective manner and in the setting most appropriate to the person’s circumstances; and

· Review all relevant patient data for state psychiatric hospitals and developmental centers, and examine those issues that relate to state psychiatric hospitals, short-term care facilities, county psychiatric hospitals, and community-based care for persons with mental illness throughout the state, and to community-based services, supports, and residential options throughout the State for persons with developmental disabilities.

The review panel shall be comprised of 10 members as follows – five members of the Senate appointed by the Senate President and five members of the General Assembly appointed by the Speaker of the General Assembly, with no more than three of either group of five being from the same political party. The Senate President and the Speaker of the General Assembly shall appoint co-chairs of the panel.

Finally, the resolution directs the review panel to report its activities, findings, conclusions, and recommendations for legislation or administrative action to the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the General Assembly within one year after the organization of the panel, but no later than 60 days before the close of the legislative session in which this resolution is adopted.