Posted Friday, April 29th, 2016


 Mental health service providers in Morris County, including county and state leaders and nonprofits, such as NewBridge Services, met this week to brainstorm on concerns and needed changes in the state’s plan to roll out its new behavioral health care funding system.

Freeholder Hank Lyon, County Administrator John Bonanni, Sen. Anthony Bucco, Assemblyman Anthony Bucco

Freeholder Hank Lyon, County Administrator John Bonanni, Sen. Anthony Bucco, Assemblyman Anthony Bucco

The gathering at the Denville municipal building on Wednesday, organized by state Assemblyman Anthony Bucco (R-Morris), brought together key players to ensure the new fee-for-services funding of mental health and addiction services doesn’t undermine needed assistance for Morris County residents.

“Today’s meeting was powerful. Never before has such a cross section of all levels come together with concern for the future of mental health services for Morris County,” said NewBridge CEO Robert L. Parker.

Parker said the state is listening and already has begun adjusting plans in response to concerns.

“Our Morris County social services agencies have long provided the highest quality of care to those in need. However, the rapid migration in the state’s funding system towards a fee for service reimbursement process could put many of our critical community based agencies at risk of not being able to continue to provide vital services,’’ said Morris County Freeholder Christine Myers.

Christine Myers

Christine Myers

“We appreciate the Deputy Commissioner’s efforts to work with us to navigate these issues so that our agencies can continue to provide excellent care to all those who need it.’’

In addition to Myers, Parker, and Assemblyman Bucco, attendees included, Morris County Deputy Freeholder Director Hank Lyon, Morris County Administrator John Bonanni, Sen. Anthony R. Bucco, and a host of local, county and social services officials.

Also on hand were state Division of Mental Health and Addiction Services Assistant Commissioner Valerie Mielke, state Division of Developmental Disabilities Assistant Commissioner Elizabeth Shea; Debra Wentz, president and CEO of the New Jersey Association of Mental Health and Addiction Agencies; and CEOs and board members of nonprofits that provide behavioral health services to Morris County residents.

The Buccos and Bonanni said the current level of services must be maintained as the state switches from grant funding of services to a fee-for-service system.

Under fee for services, social service agencies will be reimbursed only for client sessions. But missed appointments are a reality for 20-to-30 percent of people with serious mental illness, Parker noted.


Parker and Wentz made the case for extending the implementation period from six months to a full year to ensure the county’s mental health system can continue to provide services at least at current levels.

Without a safety net of grant funding, people with serious mental illness would be at risk, they said.

“While it’s good that state officials are making an effort to reach out to stakeholders and discuss pending changes, it is imperative that the state ensure that nonprofit agencies continue to be able to deliver services under any new reimbursement scheme,’’ said Freeholder Lyon.

“Regarding the implementation schedule, I’d rather see it implemented more slowly than have it be implemented quickly but with resulting service problems for our residents.’’

The state earlier this week announced it would delay implementing the fee-for-service structure for community support services (residential programs) until July 1, 2017, but no such decision has been made about outpatient services.

Wentz said that without increases in outpatient and medication management rates, back-ups at emergency rooms statewide would worsen, as would the shortage of psychiatrists and advanced practice nurses (APNs).

NewBridge Services, a nonprofit agency, is a provider of counseling services, housing and educational programs in northern New Jersey, serving more than 8,500 children, adults and seniors each year.

NewBridge treats mental illnesses and addictions; teaches skills for coping with stress, grief and challenging relationships; builds and manages affordable housing; offers school-based programs that teach children and adolescents resiliency skills for healthy emotional development; helps young adults succeed in their education and prepare for careers; and supports seniors so they can remain independent.