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.

Read more

Health Care Changes Could Impact Mental Health Services

Brianna Vannozzi, NJTV News

Mental health and addiction agencies are banding together to stop the state from transitioning to a fee-for-service health care model. That’s the system that moves away from predetermined contract fees by drawing down federal dollars. Instead it requires doctors to charge for each service provided — like tests or scans. Some experts say that leaves big gaps for state reimbursements.

“The model works in theory, but in practice the system — the mental health system is going to lose tens of million of dollars in revenue that’s going to affect people with mental illness and their families,” said Lou Schwarcz, CEO of the Mental Health Association of Morris County.

At a legislative breakfast in Bergen County, community health care providers and families in need of mental health services hoped to convince lawmakers that state funding cuts to charity care and the fee-for-service change would hit mental health services hard.

“Our biggest concern is that the safety net of those state contracts that have been in place for many, many years are going away and that as a result of fee-for-service a lot of the more behind the scenes supports that are so critical to our folks with mental illness are not going to be reimbursed,” said Morris County Department of Human Services Mental Health Administrator Laurie Becker.

“We estimate that in July 2017 approximately 2,000 individuals that we see for what we call medication management would lose services or be at threat for loss of services,” Joe Masciandaro, President and CEO of CarePlus NJ.

Read more

New NJ Bill Would Protect Rights Of Breastfeeding Mothers At Work

CBS New York 

TRENTON, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — New Jersey lawmakers have introduced a bill that would protect breastfeeding mothers from workplace discrimination.

The new legislation would require employers to provide a proper location and a “reasonable break” for breastfeeding mothers to pump during work hours. The bill would also make it a civil rights violation to fire a woman because she is breastfeeding during work hours.

“Mothers don’t stop being mothers when they get to work,” bill sponsor Democrat Valerie Vainieri Huttle said in a statement. “The benefits of breastfeeding babies, especially during the first six months, are undisputable. No woman should ever be shamed for, or prevented from feeding her child the best food possible.”

The bill, sponsored by Huttle and Democrat Bob Andrzejczak was approved by the Assembly Labor Committee on Thursday.

Read more


Lilo H. Stainton, NJ Spotlight

The goal is to extend current law, to cover women who work for small businesses or who are nursing babies older than one year

State and federal laws give New Jersey mothers the right to nurse infants in public and at most jobs, and breastfeeding rates here have risen steadily in recent years. But these protections don’t extend to moms who work for small businesses or those who want to nurse toddlers.

A handful of Democratic lawmakers are seeking to change that with a proposal that would extend civil rights protections to breastfeeding mothers in the Garden State. The measure is scheduled for a vote in the Assembly labor committee on Thursday.

All states — except Idaho — plus Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico legally permit mothers to breastfeed in any public or private location, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. New Jersey’s law, approved in 1997, protects a woman’s right to nurse in any public place, including resorts or amusement parks.

The federal Affordable Care Act, enacted in 2014, requires insurance plans to cover breastfeeding counseling and supplies. And, in recent years, New Jersey hospitals have adapted their practices to encourage new mothers to nurse.

The legal protections and growing education campaign — breastfeeding was a priority for former New Jersey Health Commissioner Mary O’Dowd — have clearly paid off.

In 2010, 72 percent of Garden State mothers had nursed their babies at some point; by 2016, this had jumped to 82 percent, according to the federal Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s biannual Breastfeeding Report Card. New Jersey was one of 29 states to already have reached one of two breastfeeding targets for 2020 set by federal regulators.

Read more

Gov. Christie, the rest of us don't want to inhale

Times of the Trenton Editorial Board

As the public woke up to the horrors of tobacco, more and more venues began declaring no-smoking zones to keep our lungs safe.

Airplanes, hospitals, restaurants, government buildings – all are places we don't have to inhale noxious fumes or cast our gaze on discarded butts and used matches.

No-smoking ordinances already exist in almost 300 of the state's municipalities.

If that seems harsh, consider the price society annually pays in terms of health costs, environmental clean-up and the risks of fires set by the careless disposal of an ignited cigarette.

"Tobacco is the leading cause of preventable death in this country, and everyone is well aware of the dangers of second-hand smoke in this day and age," said state Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen).

The lawmaker, a key proponent of anti-smoking bans, notes that polls show Garden State residents are supportive of expanding such policies.

Last summer, the state came heart-breakingly close to adopting what would have been the most comprehensive anti-smoking law in the country.

Read more

Legislator's Bill To Help Combat Heroin Epidemic Advances

Daniel Hubbard, Englewood Patch 

Legislation ensuring that schools and hospitals have ample access to Narcan to combat heroin overdoses advanced through the state Assembly Thursday.

Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-District 37) is co-sponsoring the legislation. The bill would amend the state Overdose Prevention Act. It would require the Bergen County Health Department to obtain and have keep on hand opioid antidotes, including Narcan, for schools, first responders, and hospitals. Whenever any of them is about to run out of their supply of Narcan or other similar medication, the county health department would be required to provide the individual or group with more of the medication from its reserve.

Narcan was administered 187 times in Bergen County in 2015. It helped save 170 of those lives.

Read more

Afternoon with Chelsea Clinton

Please join me at my home for an afternoon with Chelsea Clinton.  With less than a month to go before the election, Hillary needs our help to make sure she has the resources necessary to get out the vote and win this crucial election. Please consider attending the below event, there are a wide range of ticket levels and opportunities to show your support for Hillary.

Read more

Teaneck High School holds forum on concussions

Cheryl O'Brien, Teaneck Suburbanite

With football season in full swing, concussions are on the forefront of many parents’ and school officials’ minds as children head off to yet another game or practice. Reports of mild traumatic brain injuries, or concussions, occurring in sports on professional, college and high school levels have created concern among parents, educators, and coaches for the children who play.

In an effort to raise awareness of the issue, Teaneck High School and the Balance and Concussion Therapy Center hosted a forum Sept. 12 with presentations by Assemblywoman Valerie Huttle, Ken Cieslak, athletic trainer, Danit Macklin, physical therapist and owner of Balance and Concussion Therapy Center, and Todd Sinclair, athletic director.

Other school officials in attendance included Interim Superintendent Vincent McHale, Board of Education President Ardie Walser, Vice President David Diuguid, and Board Member David Gruber.

Principal Dennis Heck, a former football player and high school coach as well as a Teaneck Hall of Fame inductee, opened the event, noting the importance of recognizing the signs of a concussion and refraining from "playing through pain."

"There’s life after sports," he said. "It’s all about your mental and physical health."

Huttle acknowledged state legislation passed in 2010 that mandates school districts establish a policy for concussion management and spoke about a resolution she planned to introduce this week designating the third Friday in September as Concussion Awareness Day, beginning September 2017.

"Teaneck has always been in the forefront of bringing issues to light," she said, adding that it is important to pass a resolution statewide.

Read more


Lilo H. Stainton, NJ Spotlight

Some healthcare providers fear the transition to a ‘fee-for-service’ system could lead to program closures and staff layoffs

Behavioral healthcare providers, patients, and their advocates have stepped up their campaign to secure additional funding and flexibility for New Jersey’s Medicaid payment system, despite Gov. Chris Christie’s recent insistence that reforms of that system must continue on schedule.

Community organizations that provide mental health and substance abuse treatments to outpatients, many covered by Medicaid, are working to enlist the help of state representatives to protect these safety-net programs. Earlier this month, a handful of Democratic lawmakers introduced legislation that calls for greater oversight and analysis of the reform process.

Healthcare providers in northern New Jersey have also launched a petition urging state regulators to slow the pace of the next phase of the reform—which involves a transition to fee-for-service reimbursements for hundreds of provider organizations. And, across the state, these groups are working with patients and their families to increase awareness about the process, which they say could end services for tens of thousands of patients statewide.

Concerns have existed for months about the impact of the reform, in which the state is shifting from a system of annual contracts to one that reimburses organizations for each treatment they provide patients. These fears were exacerbated late last month, when Christie announced that the Department of Human Services, which oversees Medicaid and behavioral health services, would enforce the timeline now in effect.

While the vast majority of states shifted behavioral healthcare systems to fee-for-service payments years ago — and some are evolving even further, exploring managed care “bundled” payments designed to encourage more comprehensive and quality care — New Jersey is still in flux. Many substance abuse providers here have already made the switch to service-specific reimbursements from Medicaid, but others only began the transition in July. Mental health programs that have not yet made the switch were originally told to begin in January, but have since been granted an extension until July 2017. (The transition impacts behavioral healthcare providers; the state has already shifted most “physical” medical care to managed-care contracts for Medicaid clients.)

Read more

Christie signs bill to boost oversight of Bergen Regional Medical Center

Mary Jo Layton, The Record

Gov. Christie signed into law Wednesday a measure to create a hospital authority with sweeping powers over the management of Bergen Regional Medical Center, which has come under increased scrutiny amid allegations of violence at the facility.

An 11-member panel -- comprising the Bergen County executive, two people with expertise in finance and non-profit management and appointees of the governor – will supervise administrators, finances and operations of the largest hospital in the state.

Bergen County lawmakers proposed the measure following a report in The Record in May detailing hundreds of alleged assaults in units throughout the hospital. A 6-year-old girl was allegedly sexually assaulted by another patient, according to a police report and a lawsuit; fights broke out in detox units and locked-down wards and senior citizens were allegedly attacked in the long-term care unit, according to police reports.

The facility also came under increased scrutiny after a federal investigation resulted in a fine after eight workers were assaulted, four of whom needed medical treatment. The hospital, which provides psychiatric and addiction services, acute care and long-term care, is contesting the findings and maintains that the rate of incidents has decreased.

“I am pleased that we have been able to give the county the major tool it needs to guarantee public oversight over the next years as Bergen Regional fulfills a promise to all our residents to fulfill health care needs and to provide excellent care,’’ said state Sen. Loretta Weinberg, D-Teaneck, a primary sponsor of the bill.

Weinberg has long called for more transparency not only in the operations at the medical center, but at all for-profit hospitals in New Jersey. Her efforts may have stalled in Trenton, but this bill permits the authority to have “independent access to the books and records of the hospital at all times,’’ the legislation notes.

Read more