New Jersey is seeking to further expand inpatient treatment capacity for individuals battling mental health issues and drug addiction, with plans to add more than four dozen psychiatric hospital beds in a trio of northwestern counties in the coming years.
In early February, the state Department of Health posted a notice inviting healthcare providers to submit plans on how they could create up to 53 additional beds in a specific underserved region: 23 in Hunterdon County, five in Morris County, and 25 in Warren County.
This latest call to grow capacity is intended to build on an expansion launched last year under former Gov. Chris Christie, who announced in February 2017 plans to create 864 new treatment beds in the coming years. In November, the state outlined agreements with 26 healthcare providers to add space or build a total of 811 beds in more than a dozen counties.
Filling the beds
And on January 17, then-acting health commissioner Christopher R. Rinn filled the latest request to take care of the remaining gap in Christie’s bed pledge. State officials have said the determinations are based on national guidelines that call for 40 beds per 100,000 state residents.
Recovery experts and policymakers agree there is a critical need to expand treatment options in New Jersey; while tens of thousands of people here receive care each year for substance-use disorders, national studies show as few as one in 10 addicts actually get the help they need. State data shows that 2,221 residents died of a drug overdose in 2016, a 40 percent increase from the previous year.
While some Democrats have long pushed to expand treatment options – especially for patients diagnosed with both mental health and addiction issues – the state had not issued a request for new inpatient behavioral health beds in nearly two decades. The latest calls have specified psychiatric beds, but these spots can also serve so-called dual-diagnosis patients – a situation common in roughly half the people with addiction issues, experts note.
New Jersey already licenses more than 2,300 psychiatric beds in hospitals and other acute-care facilities and another 3,000 community-based organizations that provide care for individuals with behavioral health conditions. The state also operates four public psychiatric hospitals, which now serve another 1,600 residents, many with some of the most significant challenges.
Questions about possible overcrowding and other conditions at Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital, in Morris Plains, have led Democratic lawmakers and others to urge the state to reopen the Hagedorn Geo-Psychiatric Hospital, in Glenn Gardner, which Christie closed in 2012. Acute-care hospitals have also sounded the alarm, noting an increase in emergency room visits from individuals with psychiatric or drug crises.
Christie made several changes to expand treatment capacity, in addition to calling for more psychiatric beds. The former governor filed for a federal waiver to enable Medicaid patients to seek care in larger facilities and committed tens of millions of dollars to expand various community based programs.
Last week, Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal outlined the first targeted addiction policies for the administration of Gov. Phil Murphy, who replaced Christie last month. Grewal called for new information sharing with the public and among state agencies and integrated local emergency response teams to provide more effective support when dealing with addicts in crisis.
Although the call to add more psychiatric beds was envisioned and drafted by the Christie team, the process will unfold under Murphy’s watch. Applications are due May 1 and the State Health Planning Board will review the proposals and make a recommendation to the DOH commissioner by October 1. The commissioner, Dr. Shereef Elnahal, has the final say in which providers can add spots.
The process is designed to encourage the expansion of existing regional services. According to the post, a provider with a presence in Hunterdon, Morris, or Warren can apply to create some or all of the beds needed in these counties. If not based in that area, the applicant must make a case to the DOH why it is best able to serve the local residents.