Mental health in New Jersey: More funding, awareness needed, advocates say
A growing number of mental health providers are considering closing their doors or curtailing services because of lack of funding.
This would adversely impact tens of thousands of New Jersey residents in need, says Debra Wentz, president and CEO of the New Jersey Association of Mental Health and Addiction Agencies in Trenton.
But Wentz adds that the NJAMHAA is persevering in its advocacy for funding.
Programs have been at risk because the state Medicaid program switched to fee-for-service payments, rather than paying a fixed amount every month.
State Sen. Robert Gordon, D-Bergen, has proposed a $90 million measure that would reimburse mental health providers for shortfalls resulting from the new payment plan.
Wentz says education is essential for eliminating stigma and should be presented in a culturally sensitive way. But the ideal situation for that is "to ensure unimpeded access to mental health services, through adequate funding and parity." Parity mandates that insurance coverage for mental health and substance abuse services are at equal levels as medical and surgical care.
What is very important, says Wentz, is that mental illness and substance-use disorders, which are present in about 60 percent of people with mental illness, must be recognized as real illnesses and they must be treated at the same level as physical health conditions. But the fiscal support that's needed to ensure access to treatment have long been insufficient, she says.
It's not unusual for individuals with mental illness to experience severe symptoms even after having made significant progress in their treatments due to unemployment, loss of loved ones or some sort of trauma.
For decades, community-based mental health agencies have been enhancing the quality of life for individuals of all ages through New Jersey and as a result, these people are managing their mental illness and achieving their goals, such as "employment, higher education and strengthened family relations," say Wentz.
As a result, they are greatly reducing or even eliminating their need for treatment in emergency rooms in hospitals and in-patient units.
But without sufficient funding for these community-based providers, these services could be lost and patients would be at risk for more expensive treatment.