Bill seeks real-time tracking system for psychiatric bed availability

Anjalee Khemlani, NJBIZ

Gov. Chris Christie called for more psychiatric beds in February, a need that has mushroomed from closures of psychiatric hospitals over the years and has been exacerbated by the opioid epidemic.

These beds are increasingly important as the state battles the addiction crisis, searching for more medical facilities to handle proper detoxification and treatment.

Christie called for nearly 900 new beds in the state, a number which some have said may not be attainable.

Related legislation approved in the full Assembly is now making its way through the state Senate.

The bill, sponsored by Assemblymen Gary Schaer (D-Passaic), Craig Coughlin (D-Woodbridge) and Raj Mukherji (D-Jersey City), as well as Assemblywomen Angela McKnight (D-Jersey City) and Valeri Vainieri Huttle (D-Englewood), calls for a real-time system to track availability of beds in the state.

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Mother Fights New Jersey to Return Disabled Daughter to New Hampshire Facility

Brenda Flanagan, NJTV News

You don’t notice Jennifer Sullivan’s autism, at first. Her sunny personality conceals the physical tics and childlike repetitions. But the 27-year-old functions on a 5-year-old’s level, and her mom, Joan, says Jennifer’s behavior has deteriorated significantly since New Jersey officials compelled her to leave an out-of-state treatment facility.

“I was shocked. I didn’t think it would be this bad. She’s eating with her hands, she’s interrupting, she’s not listening to other people. These are things that she never did at Plowshare Farm,” Joan said.

Plowshare Farm is a residential center in New Hampshire for people with developmental disabilities. Jennifer moved there at age 19 and thrived in the structured environment, her mom says — worked in the kitchen, made friends, helped with farm animals.

“She was hiking and biking and visiting friends and social. They were well trained, so if there ever was any kind of a behavior problem, the directors lived there as well and they were there to answer any problems or counsel people on how to deal with her,” Joan said.

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Lilo H. Stainton, NJ Spotlight

New Jersey will appoint independent monitors to oversee its payment-reform process for community mental health providers, an ongoing transformation that has prompted concerns about the impact it could have on local programs and their patients.

Gov. Chris Christie signed legislation on Thursday that would establish an advisory board to monitor the fee-for-service transition, determine if the state’s payment rates are appropriate, and make recommendations for future reforms. The law also requires the state Department of Human Services, which is in charge of the process, to hire an independent contractor to evaluate the shift and report back to the Legislature on a regular basis.

Advocates eagerly welcomed the news, but noted that oversight alone won’t protect some providers or their vulnerable patients, many of whom suffer significant mental illnesses and cycle between state hospitals, correctional facilities, and local shelters. They have predicted the reform will leave some organizations with multimillion-dollar budget shortfalls and could imperil treatment for 20,000 people.

‘Half of the solution’

“This is a very positive step, yet only half of the solution,” said Debra Wentz, president and CEO of the New Jersey Association of Mental Health and Addiction Agencies, which has led opposition to the reform.

While he approved the measure, Christie used the opportunity to remind its Democratic sponsors that the reform has allowed New Jersey to tap into hundreds of millions of dollars in additional federal funding. He also stressed that the state is among the last in the nation to make the change from a system of annual contracts with community providers to one in which they are reimbursed by a set amount for specific services.

“Additionally, while I am signing this bill, I am not doing so in a vacuum,” Christie wrote in a message that accompanied his signature. In an effort to avoid duplication, he directed the DHS to revisit the information compiled by consultants hired six years ago to help craft a plan for the fee-for-service transition before it hired new consultants to review the process underway. “By doing so, I am seeking to ensure that this bill is being used appropriately to add value to the transition that has already benefited so many in this state,” he added.

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Measure to tax Airbnb, short-term rentals advances

Nicholas Pugliese,

Short-term housing rentals through Airbnb and other online marketplaces could soon be subject to the same taxes as hotels and motels in New Jersey, under a bill approved by the Assembly Budget Committee on Wednesday.

The measure would raise $6 million in revenue annually from Airbnb alone, according to an estimate from the nonpartisan Office of Legislative Services, but would also push up prices for people using the service by as much as 18 percent.

Another bill related to Airbnb that would require hosts to register with their municipality before listing a short-term rental was not considered Wednesday even though its sponsor said it was “gaining momentum.”

irbnb has become a controversial topic in New Jersey, where the company says there were roughly 6,000 active hosts who earned more than $50 million in 2016. Founded in 2008 and based in San Francisco, Airbnb now has more than 2.5 million users worldwide and values itself at $30 billion.

But its fast growth has been met with resistance from communities and its rivals in the hotel industry, who say the short-term-rental industry is hurting hotels and the housing market, as well as eroding the quality of life in neighborhoods.

Closter was the latest of several municipalities in North Jersey to ban rentals shorter than 30 days, citing quality-of-life concerns.

The bill that advanced Wednesday, A-4587, would not impose new restrictions on Airbnb and other “transient space marketplaces.” Rather, it would make rentals through those services subject, for the first time, to the state’s 6.875 sales and use tax and its 5 percent hotel and motel occupancy fee.

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Light rail on track

Hannington Dia, Hudson Reporter

New Jersey Transit held two public hearings on the planned Hudson-Bergen Light Rail extension into Bergen County on April 24. The project would add seven new stops to the existing service, all north along a 10-mile CSX railroad right of way, between 91st Street in North Bergen and Englewood Hospital and Medical Center. (Separately, the system also plans to add a stop in Jersey City off Route 440 near a proposed massive development.)

The system currently has 24 stations in Hudson County, through North Bergen, Union City, West New York, Weehawken, Hoboken, Jersey City, and Bayonne.Officials and residents convened on April 24 at the Crowne Plaza Englewood Hotel to give their thoughts on the Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement, an overview of the seven-stop addition.

The stops won’t be built any time soon. NJ Transit estimates they would open at the earliest in 2029.

“I think the expansion of the light rail will only further help Northern Jersey and Jersey City continue th[eir] growth,” said Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop, who attended the hearing.

He noted, “We have seen unprecedented growth, over the last 15 years. Look at where the development pockets are; they mirror exactly the light rail stops through Jersey City. Thousands and thousands of units grow, because of the light rail.”

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Christie not following law he signed, says disabled woman's mom

Susan K. Livio, NJ Advance Media for

When Jennifer Sullivan lived on a farm in New Hampshire for two years, the 26-year-old petite woman with autism hiked, worked in a bakery and tended to lambs and cows. She ate fruits and vegetables. She liked to socialize.

After four years in a group home in Bridgewater, Jennifer has developed cavities and gum disease because she binges on junk food and doesn't like to brush her teeth, according to her mother, Joan Sullivan of Rutherford. When she is not at work organizing shopping bags at a supermarket, Jennifer typically refuses to leave her bedroom. She hits herself when she is agitated, her mother said.

Joan Sullivan has pleaded with the Christie administration to let Jennifer return to Plowshare Farm in Greenfield, N.H. a community for people with developmental disabilities. But the administration won't do it -- even though Gov. Chris Christie signed a law last year that ended the policy that forced Jennifer's return.

Halting the "Return Home New Jersey" policy allowed 370 people with developmental and intellectual disabilities to remain in a home outside the state -- a victory for the dozens of families who convinced lawmakers the move would have been psychologically disruptive, and for some even medically risky.

Jennifer Sullivan is among the 170 the state transferred back from 2009 to 2015 when the policy was in effect. "Return Home" was created to save the state money and bring people closer to their families.

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LGBT business owners use identity to build entrepreneurship

Kelly Nicholaides, The Record

RUTHERFORD — At a time when coming out is still a life-changing move, more lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender entrepreneurs are identifying their businesses as part of the LGBT community, as a matter of pride as well as economics.

About 100 LGBT people attended the New Jersey LGBT Chamber of Commerce networking breakfast at the Renaissance Hotel in Rutherford on Tuesday. The group meets at least once a month for meetings and social events held all over the state.

Ferlie Almonte is an image consultant through her business Resilient Life With Ferlie, while her wife, Christine Cipriano, helps people exceed in business through golf with her business Fit for the Tee. Both businesses fall under their combined LLC. The Garfield couple are seeking the chamber's help in getting a free national certification as an LGBT Business Enterprise. That certification through the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC) will give them access to 160 Fortune 500 companies where some spending is dedicated to LBGT-owned businesses.

It [the chamber] brings us access to corporations so we can help build our business, and it validates us, in a way," Almonte explained. "We are accepted, celebrated, and together we will be elevated through these opportunities."

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Lilo H. Stainton, NJ Spotlight

New Jersey’s network of family-planning facilities has lost $50 million in state funding over the past eight years, a reduction that is making it harder for women to get birth control, cancer screenings, and other services, according to advocates for these providers.

While the situation in the Garden State is not new, these advocates argue it is made even more precarious this year by efforts among some Republicans in Congress to limit federal payments to Planned Parenthood clinics.

Planned Parenthood leaders and providers joined Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen), on a call with reporters Thursday to share their concerns about the continued loss of $7.5 million in annual funding for family-planning services, a longstanding budget line that Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, eliminated in 2010. Six clinics have closed since then, in Burlington, Cumberland, Hudson and Morris counties.

“We know these types of actions and funding cuts have clear consequences,” Vainieri Huttle said. “We know if these issues are left untreated they can lead to serious health issues.”

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In Defense of Airbnb Regulation and Knowing Who Is in Your Neighborhood


In this era of heightened awareness and “see something, say something” directives, it’s wise for local communities to know if someone in town may be renting out their home or apartment through the proliferation of new short-term rental websites, such as Airbnb or FlipKey.

Essentially, these short-term rentals are creating hotels in neighborhoods that are zoned for residential dwellings, which, in turn creates issues of public safety and security in local communities.

Currently, these types of short-term rentals made available through transient space marketplaces are not regulated.

While this relatively new venture may seem like a cheap alternative to traditional hotels and motels, we’ve heard from many local officials and constituents who have legitimate concerns over this unregulated and burgeoning industry, including the inability to know who may be staying in their communities and their impact on the local quality of life.

On the other side of the coin, this lack of regulation also leaves consumers vulnerable because they have no way of knowing if the property they are renting is safe, up to code and insured.

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Census won't collect data on sexual orientation, identity in 2020

Andew Wyrich, The Record

Both state and national LGBT rights organizations sharply rebuked the recent revelation that the 2020 Census will not include questions related to gender identity or sexual orientation.

An earlier draft of “planned subjects” for the 2020 Census included a proposal to include sexual orientation and gender identity for the first time – however that inclusion was left out of the report delivered to Congress earlier this week.

The Census and American Community Survey collects information on socio-economic trends and housing statistics that are used to allocate billions of dollars to local and state governments. The goal is to get a “complete and accurate” census, said John H. Thompson, the bureau’s director.

The decision to remove the proposal drew fierce pushback from both state and national organizations that promote LGBT equality. Not including LGBT in the counting process could have rippling effects throughout the country, activists said.

Christian Fuscarino, the executive director of Garden State Equality, said that he was “disturbed” by the decision not to collect data on gender identity and sexual orientation in the census and that the exclusion made it clear to him that the federal government saw the community as “invisible.”

“This is one of many small attacks on the LGBT community the Trump administration has in the works,” Fuscarino said. “We won’t see our rights wiped away in one swoop, instead it will be by small – but impactful – attacks like this against our community. … I feel uncomfortable knowing our nation is moving backwards when we spent the last eight years moving forward on these issues.”

Fuscarino feared that by not including LGBT data, money would not make its way to critical health resources members of the community rely on.

“A lot of health organizations receive federal funding, and if these health organizations aren’t receiving federal funding to help the LGBT community, we will see a lot more numbers in terms of STDs, HIV, AIDS and other health items that affect LGBT people,” Fuscarino said.

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