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politics

Westwood Assemblywoman: Restore Mental Health Funds

Ass. Holly Schepisi (R-Westwood).
Ass. Holly Schepisi (R-Westwood). Photo Credit: Holly Schepisi Facebook

WESTWOOD, N.J. — State Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi (R-Westwood) is opposing a shift in how the state plans to fund community mental health services as of next July.

Mental health agencies statewide, including four in Bergen County, have said the reduction would shutter programs.

In Bergen County, some 7,000 people on needed medications would cease getting them, according to the Dumont-based Vantage Health System.

“We have such a significant issue with mental health services, drug addiction,” Schepisi said in a statement released by Assembly Republicans .

“They’re tied in together,” she added, “and so it’s something whereby we need to assure we have the adequate providers and services available for our constituents.”

The Republican statement cites a statistic from a new report from the New Jersey Hospital Association: Emergency department visits in New Jersey increased by 117,000 patients from 2014 to 2015.

Nearly 54,000, or almost 46 percent, of those visits were cases of mental health or substance use disorder.

Some 300 mental health providers, patients and lawmakers gathered at Seasons in Washington Township last month to sound an alarm about the coming change from a contract-based system to a fee-for-service system.

Under the contract system, in effect for decades, agencies are able to subsidize part of the treatment cost for people who have insurance but cannot afford their deductible – a common scenario for those insured under the Affordable Care Act.

Under the fee-for-service system, they cannot service that population.

“The state has been making us whole,” explained Joe Masciandaro, president and CEO of the Paramus-based Care Plus NJ.

If all goes as planned, as of July 2017, Medicaid patients will still be able to find assistance, as will those wealthy enough to pay out of pocket.

But those in the middle, including the working poor, will not.

The bottom line is that the current state contract funding is “a safety net” for agencies, said John Mitchell, former freeholder president and current trustee with Care Plus NJ.

Without their programs, he said, the 1 in 17 people among us with severe mental illness will go to homeless shelters, to jail, to emergency rooms, and to public health facilities such as Bergen Regional Medical Center.

“From a taxpayer perspective,” he added, “it’s going to kill us unless this safety net is put in place.”

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