Trenton – In an effort to bolster New Jersey’s behavioral health care infrastructure and to address potentially catastrophic staffing shortages, the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee released two pieces of legislation sponsored by Senator Andrew Zwicker meant to meet those challenges by recruiting and retaining more qualified professionals in the field.
“Our health care workers have been our heroes in the face of an unprecedented crisis. While they were there for us, it was not without a high level of stress that has led to high levels of burnout that are depleting their ranks, particularly among behavioral care professionals,” said Senator Andrew Zwicker (D-Middlesex/Mercer/Somerset/Hunterdon). “We must act aggressively to train more staff to ensure the continuation of care for our most vulnerable citizens.”
Given the increasing prominence and attention paid to mental health during the ongoing opioid crisis and COVID-19 pandemic, access to behavioral health care has become more important than ever. Yet staffing vacancies remain high as demand for behavioral health services is on the rise.
The first bill, S-3591, would require the State to take steps to create additional graduate medical education program slots focused on behavioral health care. To accomplish this, the bill would authorize the Commissioner of Human Services and the Secretary of Higher Education to establish a process for new and existing graduate medical education programs to request and use Medicaid funds to establish programs slots for behavioral health care.
A second bill, S-3122, calls for the Department of Health to create, maintain and update two online portals to promote and publicize available opportunities within the behavioral health care sector. The first portal would permit in-State employers to post job openings for behavioral health care workers. The second portal would permit in-State employers to post internship and externship opportunities for students studying to become a health care professional.
A June 2022 report from the Kaiser Family Foundation found that available mental healthcare and substance use disorder treatment professionals are only able to serve about 68 percent of the need in New Jersey.
The Senate Health Committee released the bills S3591 and S3122, by votes of 8-0, and 8-0, respectively.