VINELAND — Cumberland County providers who offer physical, mental and addiction health care voiced their concerns Wednesday about state organizational changes during a town hall meeting at the county college.
More than 30 people representing hospitals, private providers, county divisions and other health care partners asked how their services in Cumberland County would be affected when the Division of Mental Health and Addiction Services is transferred to the state Department of Health.
“We don’t have all the facts yet about the reorganization, but we want you to give us your concerns that will better inform us as we work toward starting this process to create a more efficient statewide program,” said Alison Gibson, deputy commissioner of the state Department of Health.
The Health Department will host town halls in all 21 counties to get feedback from experts and community members on how to best integrate behavioral health services with physical health care. The change stems from a plan Gov. Chris Christie introduced to legislators in June.
The Division of Mental Health and Addiction Services oversees statewide mental health and addiction services, state aid funding, four state psychiatric hospitals, contracts with provider agencies and criminal justice system addiction treatment services, among others.
State health officials said the first step is to establish a new structure by December for how division services will operate within the health department after they are moved out of the Department of Human Services.
The second part of the reorganization plan will involve regulatory and policy changes, if needed, and a physical relocation of mental health and addiction services staff in phases, officials said.
Juanita Nazario, director of Cumberland County Human Services, was concerned about how communication between state and county departments would be affected.
Counties typically facilitate services in not only the medical and behavioral health fields but also accompanying social programs, such as supportive housing, food assistance, youth services and transportation.
“That has been part of our conversations, and we’re working on that to make sure the communication flow between state and county departments gets you the information you need,” said Morris Friedman, chief financial officer of the Division of Mental Health and Human Services.
Gibson, Friedman and Kaitlyn Woolford, executive assistant to the Office of the Deputy Commissioner for Public Health Services in the state health department, stressed the reorganization would not disrupt care for consumers and patients or payments to providers.
Gibson said although the mental health and addiction division would move into the state Department of Health, the reorganization would maintain and strengthen a partnership with the Department of Human Services to get people the help they need in areas including Medicaid, housing, food assistance and disability.
Another goal for the reorganization, officials said, is to establish a single license option for providers who want to offer physical health, mental health and addiction treatment. Currently, providers must obtain three different licenses between the two state departments.
Other town hall participants raised questions and comments concerning funding; data collection; availability of services, especially for addiction treatment and psychiatric inpatient beds; and agency contracts.
Dr. Anthony DiFabio, president and CEO of Robins’ Nest and president of the New Jersey Association of Mental Health and Addiction Agencies, said he and others worried about starting reorganization right before a new governor’s administration is to begin.
“We want to establish a new, strong structure within 100 days to get as far as possible in the transition process before a new administration,” Gibson said.
Woolford said state officials aim to complete the first stage of integration and get momentum going for the next administration while maintaining continuity of care and services for providers and consumers.
David Moore, executive director of behavioral health at Inspira, said he hopes the integration furthers health initiatives already happening and expedites some credential and licensing processes.
“We see the power of having collaborative care,” he said. “When I see combined services, one chart and one plan for each patient, it’s a more powerful holistic approach.”