Schaer, Vainieri Huttle, Sumter, Lampitt Bill Package to Improve Access to Critical Behavioral Health Services in NJ Gains Assembly Committee Approval

(TRENTON) - An Assembly panel on Thursday approved a comprehensive two bills sponsored by Assembly Democrats Gary Schaer, Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Shavonda Sumter and Pamela Lampitt to significantly improve New Jersey's approach to behavioral health crisis care by expanding services and access throughout the state.

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 bill package that 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 advanced include:

  • A-4468 (Schaer/Vainieri Huttle/Sumter): 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. An EISS program provides rapid access to short term, recovery-oriented crisis intervention and crisis stabilization services for up to 30 days to an individual 21 years of age or older with a serious mental illness and includes, but is not limited to, medication, therapy and case management services, which are offered at an on-site location, other than a hospital, or through outreach in the community.
  • A-4469(Schaer/Vainieri Huttle/Lampitt/Sumter): 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 meets the need of the persons in its geographic area and would include, but 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 healthcare 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."

"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 it better and we need to do more. In the end, these bills will lead to better services but more importantly - better lives."

The measures were approved by the Assembly Appropriations Committee.