Governor proposes reorganization of mental health services for better integration of care

The goal of combining the two departments is to better treat the behavioral and physical health of patients.

Two weeks ago, Gov. Chris Christie told lawmakers he wanted to transfer mental health and addiction services from the Department of Human Services to the Department of Health, giving lawmakers 60 days to approve or reject it. The governor says the transfer would streamline services and promote integrated care, the kind NJTV News reported last April at a Catholic Charities facility in Trenton. One place offering primary or physical care, plus care for mental health and/or addiction.

“They helped me with housing. I’ve been clean from drugs and alcohol for three years now,” said recovering addict Darrell Brown.

“We don’t oppose the thought,” said Debra Wentz.

Wentz is president and CEO of the New Jersey Association of Mental Health and Addiction Agencies. She says the governor’s reorganization plan needs vetting for an industry not sure of the future of Medicaid because the quest to repeal the Affordable Care Act and an industry that’s reeling from disruptions such as layoffs, cutbacks and denial of service because of a major change in how providers are paid.

“I just think that this fast pace without a process, without consensus in terms of moving forward, can only lead to disruptions. So were asking that until that process takes place to put the brakes on,” said Wentz.

According to the governor’s plan: “behavioral health problems in general, and opioid addiction in particular, need to be treated as illnesses no different than infectious diseases such as Zika virus or chronic conditions such as hypertension — all are best addressed by preventive measures. Only through such a public health approach can we overcome the stigma that for too long has characterized efforts to treat addiction as something that must be cordoned off from the rest of health care.”

“The integration of care is incredibly important. It’s incredibly important because people with mental illness also have physical illnesses. If they don’t get care in one place, they tend to drop off, they tend to be lost to follow up and they suffer physically,” said Director for Center for Health and Pharmaceutical and Seton Hall professor, John Jacobi.

In a statement, the state health commissioner says, “Research demonstrates that integrating behavioral and physical health care is the most effective way to treat the whole person.”

In two weeks, lawmakers plan to convene a joint Senate-Assembly Health and Human Services hearing on what they call a major overhaul plan from a governor in the waning months of his term.

“It’s a major of overhaul. There’s been no vetting. I guess he decided that he can do this without getting the proper vetting or due diligence from the Legislature and the stakeholders,” said Assemblyman Valerie Vainieri Huttle.

The joint hearing on the governor’s reorganization plan is July 25.

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