Camden County plan to lease psychiatric unit dissolves, worrying advocates for mentally ill

    When Ocean Healthcare bought out the Camden County Health Services Center for $37 million last year, the plan was to let the county continue to operate the psychiatric unit under a lease arrangement.

    Now those 150 beds, which had been reserved for patients who were involuntarily committed, also will be part of the private facility in Lakeland, New Jersey.

    Dan Keashen, a Camden County spokesman, confirmed the termination of the previous agreement but had no details on the reason it ended.  He said the original contract always gave Ocean Healthcare the option to terminate the deal.

    But the change will make it more difficult for the mentally ill to get treatment, especially the most vulnerable patients who lack quality health insurance, said Phil Lubitz, associate director of New Jersey’s National Alliance on Mental Illness,

    “It seriously jeopardizes the safety net for people with a serious mental illness,” said Lubitz. “And it’s really not only for Camden County, but also extends to a great deal of southern New Jersey in general since many of the other counties in South Jersey count on those beds at that Camden County facility as well.”

    As a result, Lubitz said, patients are likely to experience longer waits at emergency rooms and shorter than necessary stays in hospitals.

    Keashen says Camden County does not think that will happen.  “We feel confident the quality and level of care will be maintained going forward,” he said.

    Recognizing that there is a need for more public psychiatric beds, New Jersey officials have issued a request for proposals from other operators to replace them. But it is currently unclear if or when such beds would become available.

    “There is very little likelihood to a near impossibility that the state’s going to be able to replace all or even a substantial numbers of those beds,” said Lubitz. “There just aren’t the available places in South Jersey.”

    Editor’s note: this story was updated, allowing the county’s spokesman to respond to questions that the move will make it harder for people to get treatment.

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