TRENTON — After spending months holding county town hall meetings and collecting input from New Jersey health providers on how to best reorganize mental health and addiction services at the state level, the Murphy administration is reversing those plans.
Gov. Phil Murphy announced Thursday the transfer of the Division of Mental Health and Addiction Services, or DMHAS, to the state Department of Health will stop, and most services will go back to once again operating under the state Department of Human Services starting Aug. 20.
“The DMHAS transfer will reverse a decision made in the waning months of the Christie administration that was rushed through with minimal input and engagement,” Murphy said in a statement.
The Department of Health will continue to pursue the development of a single license for providers that treat both physical and behavioral health, and the state’s psychiatric hospitals will remain with the Health Department.
The state had approved a plan under Gov. Chris Christie that would have transferred most mental health and addiction services to the Department of Health for better integration of physical and behavioral health care.
State officials held town hall meetings last year in every county to hear from local experts and providers of their concerns with the move and their suggestions for how it could go smoothly.
At the time, providers worried a reorganization was too ambitious at a time when mental health and addiction treatment providers were also slowly transitioning to a fee-for-service payment system.
Others feared the reorganization taking place during the change of administrations would cause problems and delays. The outcome was a new administration that reversed the plan altogether. Providers said they hope it won’t impact residents and their access to care.
“As a provider, I do not think that it will have a negative impact. Like the others, I was concerned about the move last year,” said Greg Speed, president and CEO of Cape Counseling. “Offices and desks might change in Trenton, but local impact should be minimal.”
Debra Wentz, president and CEO of the New Jersey Association of Mental Health and Addiction Agencies, said both state departments work closely together and hopes that continues under the shakeup.
Her concerns remain in issues that may occur on the health care providers’ level and any delays that may stem from the move, which eventually can impact patients.
“They are saying they’re doing more public input to cause less disruption, so we’re always happy to partner and work on behalf of the providers who serve and make sure they’re able to function, without duplication and over-regulation,” Wentz said.
The state had already physically moved people from one department to the other, and the state Department of Health had adopted the division’s website into its own before Murphy’s announcement.
Most department and division leaders said they are on board with the reversal.
“I am delighted that the Division of Mental Health and Addiction Services will be returning home to the Department of Human Services where it will once again be in the same lace as Medicaid and the social services programs that are critical to supporting individuals in need and their families,” Human Services Commissioner Carole Johnson said in a statement.