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.

“In 2015, we hosted a number of roundtable discussions and meetings on issues related to behavioral and mental health care, and professionals in the field continuously raised the need for increased information sharing on bed availability across the state,” Schaer said. “Therefore, this legislation is designed to help providers and emergency rooms to quickly place patients in need of behavioral health services for the appropriate treatment.”

Vainieri Huttle said: “The systematic closure of psychiatric hospitals over the last half-century has left most states with a serious shortage of inpatient treatment options, forcing many patients to wait endlessly in emergency rooms until a bed opens. A real-time system to track the availability of existing beds will help ensure that our existing resources are maximized and people are treated more quickly.”

The bill requires a data dashboard report, updated daily, of facilities licensed to provide the type of care needed to fight the addiction crisis.

“The availability of treatment beds can be the difference between life and death for people who are struggling to overcome addiction,” Mukherji said. “Developing and maintaining an up-to-date database on the number of open beds will ensure that those who need help can get it as soon as possible.”

The Division of Mental Health and Addiction Services would convene a workgroup to assist in the monitoring of the data reporting requirements, which would include, at a minimum, one representative from each of the following organizations: the New Jersey Hospital Association, the New Jersey chapter of the American College of Emergency Physicians, the Health Care Association of New Jersey, LeadingAge New Jersey and other stakeholders as the division deems appropriate.