Southern New Jersey will need to nearly double the number of psychiatric hospital beds specifically used to treat substance abuse and mental illness patients to meet demand, according to state health officials and Gov. Chris Christie.
Atlantic, Cape May, Cumberland and Ocean counties need 180 additional beds for drug and alcohol addictions and mental illnesses, the state says.
Currently, there are 163. All of the beds for Atlantic and Cape May counties’ residents are at AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center in Galloway Township.
Christie has made a plea to health providers to establish more inpatient services to meet a growing demand that includes skyrocketing heroin abuse.
James Cooney, CEO at Ocean Mental Health, said the beds are needed, especially in Ocean County.
“You can’t just create beds, but you have to make sure they’re also connected to community programs,” he said. “I’m very happy with what (Christie) has done. It’s the right thing for him to be doing.”
Cooney said additional inpatient beds at local hospitals and health providers can help his organization provide follow-up care for more people.
Christie and state Department of Health officials have identified a need for 864 more adult acute-care psychiatric beds statewide.
“I always have believed that there is no soul that is beyond redemption and that everybody can have more chances,” Christie said at a recent press conference.
About 7.9 million adults in the United States had co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders, according to a 2014 survey by the Federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
Experts also say emergency room visits involving both substance abuse and mental illness were more likely to result in inpatient hospitalization and treatment.
Emergency department visits in New Jersey hospitals increased overall by more than 117,000 patients from 2014 to 2015, and nearly 54,000 of those new cases included a mental health or substance use disorder diagnosis, according to the New Jersey Hospital Association.
Greg Speed, CEO of Cape Counseling, a behavioral health care network in Cape May County, said the problem with establishing inpatient beds like these has been a lack of psychiatrists coming to work in South Jersey and the local need to sustain the costs of running these inpatient units.
He said Cape May County health officials do not yet know enough about the process to determine if it’s feasible.
State health officials said Christie’s support of legislation that would require health insurers to pay without prior authorization for up to six months of inpatient treatment should help the establishment of these additional inpatient beds.
If health providers apply to establish additional beds and get approved, state policy mandates they reserve a percentage of treatment days per year for Medicaid and uninsured patients.
Laura Rodgers, chief programs officer at Jewish Family Services, said treating both mental illness and substance use together has led to the best outcomes for clients and that additional beds would get the state closer to meeting the needs of clients the agency serves.