Settlement Transforms New Jersey Mental Health System

yellow flag of New Jersey against a blue sky

by Andy Jones
March 23, 2017

Disability advocates and New Jersey state officials announced March 16 the completion of a long-running settlement, which greatly expanded the state’s offerings of integrated housing options for people with disabilities.

Disability Rights New Jersey and the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law filed a class-action lawsuit against the state in 2005, alleging it was illegally segregating thousands of people in institutions and other restrictive settings, in violation of the ADA.

When the lawsuit was commenced, more than half of the individuals in the state’s psychiatric hospitals had been placed in “conditional extension pending placement” status, meaning they had been found eligible to transfer to a community or home-based, rather than institutional, setting, but the state lacked such a placement for them.

In the eight years since the parties reached an agreement in 2009, that figure has dropped to 22 percent.

The average wait time has dropped from nine to five months, according to an article at NJ.com. Since 2006, the number of people in the state’s psychiatric hospitals has decreased 36 percent, from 2,938 patients to 1,884.

“The improvements to New Jersey’s community have resulted in a dramatic reduction of the state hospital census, and of the number of people in FEPP states,” DRNJ Executive Director Joseph Young said in a news release [PDF].

To assist with the transition, the settlement also required the state to develop 1,065 new supportive housing units. Since the settlement was announced, it has built 1,436.

“As a result of this settlement, the state put in place new practices and shifted resources to avoid needlessly hospitalizing individuals with serious mental illness and to ensure that such individuals have the chance to live in the most integrated settings,” said Jennifer Mathis, director of policy and legal advocacy with the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law in the news release.

Disability Rights Washington and Disability Rights New Jersey are the designated protection and advocacy agency in Washington and New Jersey, respectively, and are members of the National Disability Rights Network.