Cops to offer addicts help under new law

John C. Ensslin, The Record

Addicts will be able to seek help from their local police department under a bill that Governor Christie signed into law on Wednesday.

“This new law allows police officers — often the first people to discover nonviolent drug offenders in their worst state — to become a point of access for help and recovery,” Christie said.

The new law directs the state director of Mental Health and Addiction Services and the Attorney General to draft regulations to enable county and local law enforcement to establish programs in their own departments.

The regulations would establish guidelines for the training and recruitment of police officers, volunteers and recovery services taking part in the program.

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ADVOCATES FEAR PAYMENT REFORM WILL UNRAVEL PSYCHIATRIC SAFETY NET

Lilo H. Stainton, NJ Spotlight

Problems with fee-for-service model could be further exacerbated if President-elect Trump ditches Affordable Care Act

Proceeding with state plans to reform the payment system for community mental health providers will leave tens of thousands of vulnerable patients stranded without proper care, advocates warned, while also ripping larger holes in New Jersey’s longstanding safety net for those with serious psychiatric issues. 

Nonprofit organizations that operate housing, day programs, and healthcare services for clients with mental illness warned that under the new reimbursement system they will be forced to close down parts of their operations and lay off hundreds of workers, shunting thousands of desperate patients to overcrowded hospital emergency rooms. While Gov. Chris Christie directed $127 million, primarily federal funding, in the current budget to help fund the transition, providers insist that the new billing model will still leave them short. 

And the impact of the payment reform is likely to be far worse than they originally predicted, advocates told the Assembly Human Services committee on Monday, especially given President-elect Donald Trump’s plans to dismantle the federal law that would cover much of these patient costs. 

The committee voted to approve a proposal (A-4146) for the state to closely monitor the reform and report back on the process, sponsored by Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen), the committee chair, and several of her Democratic colleagues. A Senate version was approved in September.

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OMBUDSMAN FOR DEVELOPMENTALLY DISABLED HAS BIPARTISAN BACKING

Lilo H. Stainton, NJ Spotlight

Some advocates fear plan would create new level of bureaucracy for families to negotiate

State senators from both political parties have joined forces to advance a plan that would create an independent office within New Jersey government to advocate for residents with developmental disabilities and help them navigate the existing maze of government services.

The legislation — scheduled for a vote Thursday in the Senate Health Committee — mirrors a proposal approved by a unanimous vote in the Assembly in June that would create an ombudsman’s office for those with intellectual or developmental disabilities and their families. The ombudsman would be appointed by the governor but would operate independently to connect people with state programs run by several departments, advocate for them with state officials, monitor the state’s work, and report to state officials and lawmakers.

While two similar versions of the plan were considered, Senate staff said the lead sponsors, Sen. Tom Kean Jr. (R-Union) and Sen. Brian Stack (D-Hudson), chose to advance the Assembly bill (S-2392) that calls for the office to serve as a neutral party to help resolve disputes between families and state agencies. The bill envisions the ombudsman as a conduit for information and an advocate for those with disabilities and mechanism to help ensure that public policy reflects the needs of developmentally disabled individuals.

“There’s a bipartisan consensus that we need to move forward with this effort to increase access to services and increase protections for those with developmental disabilities,” Kean said. “I’m glad to partner with Senator Stack on this critical legislation to support our state’s most vulnerable residents.”

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Christie plan could endanger the seriously mentally ill | Editorial

Star Ledger Editorial Board

Given the fiscal crisis, New Jersey needs to find a truckload of smart spending cuts. But the Christie administration's plan to limit spending on those with serious mental illnesses could backfire, as the same type of effort has in other states.
 
For starters, let's understand what's at stake. This change would cut funding to threadbare community mental health centers, which are the last resort for those with mental illness and no money for private treatment.
 
The change would affect places like CarePlus, in Bergen County, which plasters its phone number across the George Washington Bridge to save would-be jumpers.

Police refer many clients there as well. One recently drove his car into a building and attempted suicide-by-cop during a bout of psychosis. Another ended up fatally shooting his wife in front of their 12-year-old kid, then himself.
 
These centers treat people who have no place else to go, are who are rendered desperate, and sometimes dangerous, by their illnesses. So there is no room for error.

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The Debate Over Minimum Wage Goes On

David Cruz, NJTV News

With a swipe of his veto pen, this year Gov. Chris Christie put a stop to Democratic lawmakers’ efforts to raise the minimum wage to $15. But the minimum wage debate, that continues. Lawmakers say they’re ready to go back to voters with another referendum — the second in three years — that would raise the wage. But some Republican lawmakers hope for a chance to broaden the conversation before it comes to that.

“They’re pushing an agenda,” said Republican Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi. “They will never provide a balanced approach to it, and that’s the unfortunate thing. In order for the public to completely understand what the implications of something are, they have to understand the entire story and make a determination from there. What you have is these unions pumping millions and millions of dollars into a narrative that’s only a partial portion of a narrative.”

Which, you might not be shocked to learn, is just about what the other side says. By now, the arguments have been made. Worker advocates say they can’t live on $18,000 a year and employers say they can’t afford to pay everyone $15 an hour. But there has to be a middle ground somewhere, no?

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Bill Would Put More Regulations On Crane and Claw Games

Phil Gregory, WBGO News

New Jersey lawmakers are considering new regulations for crane and claw amusement games that include posting the odds of winning right on the machines.

Edward McGlynn with the New Jersey Amusement Association opposes the legislation.

"These are skill machines so I don't know how you make odds available for skill machines. To me the analogy would be how can you make odds as to whether or not someone is going to bowl 300. It just doesn't work."

Assemblywoman Valerie Huttle says she spent a lot of time and money playing claw machines trying to win a prize for her kids.
"How skillful is it when you're really just moving the crane with the claw and all of the sudden you've got in and you're coming down to pick up the stuffed animal and then it drops."

Huttle says posting the odds of winning would be helpful.

"In all the amusement games that is probably the toughest which means it would probably have the most odds against winning because you can see that very few people win on that."

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PROGRAMS FOR DEVELOPMENTALLY DISABLED COULD FACE MORE SCRUTINY

Lilo H. Stainton, NJ Spotlight

Reducing physical and emotional abuse, neglect in state-funded facilities

After nearly three years of discussion and legislative fine-tuning, New Jersey lawmakers will again review a proposal to better protect individuals with developmental disabilities, improve transparency around state-funded operations, and hold abusers accountable for their actions. 

The measure —known as Stephen Komninos’ Law, after a 22-year-old man who choked to death in a group home when left alone in 2007 against medical orders — would require a half-dozen surprise visits per year at public institutions and private group homes, day programs, and other facilities that use state funds to serve people with developmental disabilities. The plan requires family members to be notified within an hour of any abuse or injury discovered and requires state officials to follow up on such reports within days. It also mandates background tests and drug screening for front-line staff at these sites.

The latest version of the bill (A-2503), championed by Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen) with nine of her colleagues, is scheduled for a vote Thursday in the Assembly Appropriations Committee; it received unanimous support from the Human Services Committee in September. A Senate version, sponsored by Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-Gloucester) and Senator Jennifer Beck (R-Monmouth), awaits action.

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No breastfeeding mom should worry she might be fired

Times of Trenton Editorial Board

In addition to bonding mother and baby in the crucial months after childbirth, the benefits of breastfeeding show up in surprising ways.

Research suggests that if 90 percent of families breastfed exclusively for six months, nearly 1,000 infant deaths could be avoided.

The compelling figure comes from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which also notes that nursing infants usually need fewer sick-care visits, fewer prescriptions and less time in the hospital.

Now a group of New Jersey lawmakers is looking to widen protections for nursing mothers, extending existing laws to include women who work for small businesses, as well as those who continue nursing after their babies turn a year old.

The Assembly Labor Committee recently unanimously approved Bill A2294, which would make it a civil rights violation for a working woman to be fired or otherwise discriminated against for breastfeeding or expressing her milk during breaks.

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DEMOCRATS CAN’T WAIT TO RESTORE WOMEN’S HEALTHCARE FUNDING POST-CHRISTIE

Lilo H. Stainton, NJ Spotlight

They also back Planned Parenthood’s proposal for insurance companies to cover a year’s worth of birth control at once

For nearly seven years Democratic state lawmakers, led by Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, have waged an unsuccessful battle to reinstate millions in annual funding for women’s healthcare services that Gov. Chris Christie declined to include in New Jersey’s budget when he took office.

But legislative leaders promised that pattern is destined to change — just as soon as a new governor takes office, in January 2018.

On Thursday Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-Gloucester) and Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto (D-Hudson) pledged to restore the nearly $7.5 million budget line, which had been included by governors in both parties for years to help pay for cancer screenings, treatments for sexually transmitted diseases, birth control and more; the funding was not used for abortion services. State officials have insisted that, even with less funding, these services are still available at various low-cost clinics.

The two leaders joined Weinberg and other top Democrats, and at least one Republican, at a State House event sponsored by Planned Parenthood to celebrate the organization’s 100th birthday, laud Weinberg’s leadership, and commit to including the money in future budgets. Christie eliminated the funding in 2010 in what he described as an effort to cut costs, although later during his failed presidential run he attributed it to his opposition to abortion.

“There’s a new day at the end of the tunnel. Finally,” Weinberg said, surrounded by cheering admirers in pink T-shirts.

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Advocates say new mental health funding plan would slash services

Mary Jo Layton, The Record

Nearly 300 mental health advocates on Wednesday called for the state to maintain funding for outpatient services, saying the potential loss of more than $6 million in Bergen County alone will impact thousands of clients who can’t afford private psychiatric or addiction treatment.

Speakers warned of dire consequences in an already-burdened mental health system at the event in Washington Township. If services are cut, more patients will end up in hospitals, emergency rooms and in jail, experts warned.

“We need not to cut the funding. We need to increase the funding for people,” Bergen County Executive James Tedesco said.

The state plans to switch from a grant system that provided monthly lump sums to mental health providers to a model that pays a fee for each service as it is provided. Patients who can afford to pay for their own mental health care and seek treatment from private specialists will not be affected.

The new system, however, could cost four outpatient programs in Bergen County – which provide Medicaid-subsidized care — $6 million, potentially causing the programs to lose 60 psychiatrists, clinicians and other support staff, advocates said.

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