The weather is getting warmer, the days are getting longer and fears about the COVID pandemic continue to lessen, but many Garden State residents are still struggling with a variety of residual mental health issues from the pandemic.

The CDC has shown an increase in the percentage of adults with anxiety or depression symptoms.

"We can track this back to loss of job, loss of income, loss of stability in their life, isolation,” Assemblyman Lou Greenwald, D-Camden, said.

The New Jersey Hospital Association, meanwhile, said anxiety symptoms of emergency rooms patients under 18 increased 74%.

Teenage Girl Visits Doctor's Office Suffering With Depression
Catherine Yeulet, ThinkStock
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In response, he said a package of bills has been introduced that would “help navigate a complex healthcare system around behavioral health, which in many cases people kind of keep locked away and don’t want to talk about.”

He said what the legislation does is “helps them navigate that complex system, and really insulates them with wrap-around services as well as improve access in the community, by increasing the adequacy of those insurance networks.”

What's proposed

Greenwald is sponsoring one measure, A3597, that sets up a zero-interest loan program to help community health providers offer integrated care.

Another bill, A3598, would create a pilot program to incentivize hospitals to offer 24/7 mental health care, similar to what Urgent Care centers offer.

He is also sponsoring legislation, A3599 to establish a 2-year Regional Community Behavioral Health Pilot Program, and another bill, A-3600, would create a pilot program to link Regional Health Hubs with hospitals to help with patient coordination.

A separate measure, A3595, sponsored by Assemblywoman Pam Lampitt, D-Camden, would require health benefits plans and carriers to meet certain requirements concerning network adequacy and mental health care.

He said it’s become clear that when many people have a mental crisis they don’t know where to turn so they wind up in a hospital Emergency Room, or they’re forced “to seek out treatment and find available services on their own, this could take months and when you see those types of statistics, people don’t have months.”

“I think we all know someone since COVID who has experienced this and we want to help get them the assistance they need and deserve,” he said.

The measures are currently being considered by the Assembly Health and Human Services committees.

David Matthau is a reporter for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at david.matthau@townsquaremedia.com

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