Psychiatrists, primary care doctors and social workers would work together to treat children through a proposed pilot program. These “mental health treatment teams” would seek to identify problems before they become severe.
Legislation funding the start-up program, was debated and released yesterday by the Senate’s Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee.
The bill would allot $750,000 to fund the pilot program in Bergen County for two years, but some senators said they would like to add counties and expand funding in the state budget.
If the pilot program is successful, supporters said they would seek to have it expanded statewide.
Dr. Gary Rosenberg, a psychiatrist at Saint Clare’s Hospital, said there has been an increase in the percentage of children with mental illnesses who are being treated by primary care providers, including most children who have been prescribed psychotropic medications.
The bill would instead allow psychiatrists with more knowledge of such medications to prescribe them.
The funding would pay for five psychiatrists to take phone calls from family doctors during patient visits for consultations. In addition, social workers would help parents get access to mental health resources. It would also provide mental healthcare training for primary care providers.
“This program really addresses kids who don’t reach the level, we hope, of ever needing specialty mental healthcare,” Rosenberg said. “It’s really more of a primary prevention program.”
He added that the goal is to help children with depression, anxiety, eating disorders and substance-abuse disorders before they are in an emergency situation.
Sen. Robert W. Singer (R-Monmouth and Ocean) expressed frustration that the bill would only fund a pilot program in Bergen County, adding that some programs are never expanded to central and southern New Jersey. Sen. Ronald L. Rice (D-Essex) responded that he would add Ocean County to the pilot program. Committee Chairman Sen. Joseph F. Vitale (D-Middlesex) said legislators could consider the expansion as the bill makes its way through the budget process.
Sen. Diane B. Allen (R-Burlington) said she could only support the bill if the additional funding was included as part of the budget process. She voted to release the bill after speaking with Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney (D-Cumberland, Gloucester and Salem), who she said planned to include the program in budget negotiations in the coming weeks.
The committee released the bill on a 7-0 vote, with Sen. Dawn Marie Addiego (R-Atlantic, Burlington and Camden) abstaining.