The governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie has announced his intentions to hand over to the Department of Health the $1.2 billion agency mental health and addiction services. According to him, he believes that the move would effectively address substance abuse disorder as the public health crisis it is.
As his term is coming to its final stretch, the reorganization shall be his final move in trying to help rid the widespread crisis of heroin and opioid drug addiction. Many proponents expressed their surprise with the governor’s plan being how massive it is and how close his term is to ending.
Officials who head committees that manage the Department of Human Services and Health, the main agencies affected by the reorganization, announced their plan to hold public hearings on the governor’s plan.
The state’s law requires that the governor informs the legislature department 60 days before any department reorganization. The lawmakers expressed their wish to exercise their right to stop the proposed reorganization by providing a resolution in both the assembly and senate.
“I can’t comment whether it’s right or wrong, but this is a major overhaul that needs to be vetted,” said Assemblywoman Valerie Vaineri Huttle, Chair of the Assembly Human Services Committee. “I am trying to understanding the intent.”
According to the 16-page reorganization plan written by Christie, “only through the reorganization can we overcome the stigma that for too long has characterized addiction as something that must be cordoned off from the rest of health care.”
“Behavioral health problems in general, and opioid addiction in particular need to be treated as illnesses no different that infectious diseases such as (the) Zika virus chronic conditions such as hypertension,” continued the document.
However, Sen. Joseph Vitale, the chairman of the Senate Health, Human Services, and Senior Citizens Committee, said he doesn’t understand how moving one agency to another will make things better for patients.
“You are taking away these services from the Department of Human Services and giving them to the Department of Health, which has no operational experience,” Vitale added.
Debra Wentz, CEO of the New Jersey Association of Mental health and Addiction Agencies, expressed doubts on the timing of the reorganization. Last July 1 a new payment system resulted in the loss of hundreds of jobs and cuts to services.
“Undertaking a major systemic change could be a significant disruption that could impact people on the ground,” Wentz said.
Nevertheless, Health Commissioner Cathleen Bennett expressed her support for the reorganization and said some of the concerns may prove to be unfounded. According to her, the employees from the mental health and addictions division will transfer to her department, hence taking with them all their expertise and experience.
“It will be the same senior leadership team continuing,” she said. “If you have a substance abuse issue and an underlying medical issue, you need to go to separate locations,” Bennett said. “This provides a pathway where physical and mental health can be addressed.”
Last January 17, Governor Christie declared that drug abuse has become a public crisis. New Jersey Advance Media estimated that at least 128, 000 citizens of New Jersey are addicted to heroin. Citizens can help solve the addiction problem by helping their people they know who have addiction undergo rehabilitation, or follow these steps to help get rid of their addictions.