Pallone Convenes Roundtable Discussion on State of NJ’s Mental Health System

Feb 8, 2016 Issues: Health Care, New Jersey

Advocates and Mental Health Professionals Discuss Challenges Facing System & Reforms Needed

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ – Today, Congressman Frank Pallone, Jr. (NJ-06), who serves as the top Democrat of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, convened a roundtable discussion at Rutgers University on the state of New Jersey’s mental health system and how to improve outcomes for individuals currently suffering from mental illness.  Entitled “Strengthening our Mental Health System across the Full Continuum of Care,” today’s discussion brought together experts, advocates, and mental health professionals to hear a wide range of perspectives on the challenges facing the State’s mental health system and what reforms are needed.

“Despite the advances we’ve made in recent years, far too many individuals with mental illness still go without the treatment they need to live long, healthy and productive lives,” said Congressman Pallone.  “There is more we can do to ensure that those suffering in New Jersey and across the nation have access to the treatment and support services they need.  Today’s discussion was helpful in determining what is working within the system and what must be improved so that we can reach all those still struggling.”

While the Affordable Care Act has expanded mental health and substance use disorder benefits for nearly 1.6 million New Jerseyans, more can still be done within the state and across the country to further expand access to treatment and ensure individuals do not fall through the cracks.  For example, from 2010 to 2014, only about 40 percent of adults with mental illness in New Jersey had received treatment or counseling in the previous year, and only 38 percent of adolescents with major depressive episodes received treatment.

Currently, there is ongoing debate in Congress regarding mental health reform.  Several bills have been introduced this session in both the House and the Senate that address the issue, and the Energy and Commerce Committee has also held hearings on the topic of mental health.  Today’s panelists urged lawmakers to make sure that deliberations on legislation in Congress do not hinge on controversial policies, but instead address areas where there is consensus.  One controversial policy they highlighted today was assisted outpatient treatment (AOT) laws, which use the court system to force individuals who pose no imminent threat to themselves or others into treatment.

The participants noted the importance of properly funding mental health services to ensure that the necessary resources are available to those in crisis or seeking support.  They also stressed the need to provide more services across the spectrum of care so that individuals can get help for their unique needs.

“We thank Congressman Pallone for his leadership and welcome this opportunity to bring together a diverse group to discuss mental health reforms,” said Barbara Johnston, who is the Director of Policy and Advocacy for the Mental Health Association in New Jersey (MHANJ) and also served as co-host of today’s roundtable discussion. 

Pallone and Johnston were joined by stakeholders representing a wide range of perspectives on the reforms needed to improve our mental health system, including:

Debra Wentz, CEO of the New Jersey Association of Mental Health and Addiction Agencies;

Phyllis Bolling, Ph.D, Director of NJIT’s Center for Counseling and Psychological Services;

Steven Silverstein, PhD, Director of Research at Rutgers University Behavioral Health Care (UBHC);

Theresa Berger, MD, Chair of the New Jersey Primary Care Association;

Joe Young, Executive Director of Disability Rights New Jersey;

Sean Hopkins, Senior Vice President of the New Jersey Hospital Association;

Luke Koppisch, Deputy Director of the Alliance Center for Independence;

Jeffrey Axelbank, Psy. D., of the NJ Psychological Association (NJPA);

Jody Silver, Executive Director of the Collaborative Support Programs of New Jersey;

Robert N. Davison, Executive Director of the Mental Health Association of Essex County, Inc.;

Alfred Tallia, MD, MPH, Chair of the Department of Family Medicine;

Jay Everett, Associate at Monarch Housing Associates;

Jim Lukach, Executive Director of New Jersey School Counselor Association;

Kenneth J. Gill, Ph.D., CPRP, Associate Dean for Faculty Development at Rutgers-School of Health Related Professions.