PsychOdyssey OpEd, August 26, 2011
The New Jersey Department of Human Services has announced a proposal to reduce partial care program costs by over $4 million. The cost reductions will be achieved by a regulation revision to increase staffing ratios. The Department will permit 15 recipients per service worker, up from 12 per worker. The practical effect of the measure will be to force the 29 partial care agencies around the State to reduce service worker staffing by 25%. The impact on New Jersey families of loved ones with psychiatric disabilities will be to decrease the quality and level of service for their loved ones. The Department has invited the public to submit their comments to the Department by mid October.
The Department couched its announcement in Orwellian language. Explaining that recent reductions in Federal and State funding funds necessitate cuts in existing reimbursement rates for partial care services, the Department claimed that the proposed measures were needed “to ensure that consumers can receive needed services in the most efficient and effective manner possible.” The announcement did not explain exactly how the cuts are expected to make the existing services more efficient and effective.
While New Jersey families will appreciate the Department’s short-term effort to maintain the current level of services for their loved ones in partial care programs, none can be pleased with the implications of a 25% evisceration of the partial care program workforce around the State. In the longer run, however, the action highlights the precarious dependence of the State’s community mental health service sector on the increasingly fraying thread of government funding.
The sector must develop new approaches to transform its relationship to the government. One such way is to rethink the whole idea of partial care. Perhaps New Jersey can chart a new path by following the example of Italy (see PsychOdyssey post about Italy here) in the development of work-integrated social enterprises for individuals with psychiatric disabilities, in which participates are employed and supported in private and co-operative enterprises which are supported with more cost effective business, community development, and enterprise advancement incentives.