Advocates Illustrate Why New Jerseyans Cannot Wait any Longer for Life Saving Care

April 19, 2024

On April 18, 2024, leaders from several statewide advocacy organizations held a press conference, New Jerseyans Cannot Wait Any Longer for Life Saving Care, and highlighted compelling examples of the negative impact of long waits for services - many of which are due to the behavioral healthcare and social services workforce crisis - and equally powerful illustrations of the positive impact of these services. The advocates implore the State Legislature to ensure that the FY2025 State Budget include significantly greater investment in these services that are primarily needed by the disenfranchised and marginalized community.

"While each of us serves a different group of members, we face many common challenges," said Megann Anderson Fischer, Executive Director, New Jersey Alliance for Children, Youth and Families (NJACYF). "The mental health system in New Jersey is failing many of our children and families. Many are struggling at home or in the wrong levels of care, and others are deteriorating in emergency rooms," she stated.

Another shared reality among NJACYF and the other advocacy groups is the positive impact their members' services have on the wellbeing and quality of life for all of the state's diverse residents.

Critical Issues Needing More Funding Are the Workforce and Waitlists

Two critical issues of mutual concern among all the trade associations are the workforce crisis and waiting lists. "We cannot get enough qualified staff or increase wages to serve individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD)," stated Thomas Baffuto, Executive Director, The Arc of New Jersey. "Individuals receiving these services are required to be on the Community Care Waiver program, which has thousands of people waiting for seven to ten years. By then, many who still live with their parents will not be able to receive the care they need," Baffuto shared.

Leaders of other I/DD focused trade associations expressed the same concerns. "The reality is we haven't fully recovered from the pandemic. We are still experiencing a workforce crisis," stressed Valerie Sellers, CEO of the New Jersey Association of Community Providers. "We need an infusion of funding not just to keep up with inflationary factors and maintain the system, but also to expand the system."

Demand for services continues to increase as the workforce is declining. "While the worst of the pandemic is over, the mental health impacts not only remain, but continue to grow," stated Debra L. Wentz, PhD, President and CEO, New Jersey Association of Mental Health and Addiction Agencies (NJAMHAA), referring to increases in not only rates of depression and anxiety, but also in acuity of these mental health conditions.

James Parauda, LSW, Vice President of New Jersey Care Management Organizations (NJCMO) and Chief Executive Officer, Tri County CMO, shared the detrimental impact of waiting for services. "Many kids wait in psychiatric hospitals and Children's Crisis Intervention Services units for extended periods of time when they no longer need to be there. This creates more waits for those hospital and crisis beds," he said, adding that many children cannot wait at home because the environments there are not safe.

Many Success Stories Exist and More Investment Will Enable More to Be Achieved

In addition to reinforcing the critical need for funds to expand the workforce and increase access to services, the advocates illustrated how the services enhance individuals' lives and, therefore, the value of the state's increased investment for which they are asking of the State Legislature. For example, early intervention services for children with I/DD enable the youth to have "better education outcomes" and ultimately have "increased participation in the workforce," said Catherine Cabriele Chin, Executive Director, Alliance for the Betterment of Citizens with Disabilities.

Dr. Wentz noted that NJAMHAA's campaign, Diverse Faces: All Are Worthy of Full Investment, features several examples of the numerous successes that individuals have achieved as a result of the behavioral healthcare and social services they received. Click here to view the campaign brochure to read more examples of successes and here to watch videos of additional inspiring stories that further demonstrate the value of the state's investment in behavioral healthcare and social services.

Such individual victories also translate into benefits for the state overall. "By making prevention, treatment and recovery supports available to all New Jersey residents, the state would benefit from the prevention of emergency room visits, hospitalizations, homelessness and individuals' involvement in the criminal justice system," Dr. Wentz explained.

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