Nationwide, there’s a shortage of psychiatrists. But distribution is a huge problem as well.
New Jersey doesn’t have enough psychiatrists in the rural and urban areas, according to state Sen. Dick Codey.
“You can get a psychiatrist in the suburbs,” said the former governor. “But in urban and rural New Jersey, there are none.”
In areas including Salem County or Camden, it can be difficult to find a psychiatrist. That’s why Codey, D-Essex, and state Sen. Joseph Vitale, D-Middlesex, are sponsoring a bill that would reimburse the costs of up to a year of medical school for psychiatrists who work in an underserved part of the state after their residency.
Phil Lubitz, the associate director of NAMI New Jersey, said that could make a big difference.
“It’s almost a daily request that I receive over the telephone,” he said. “In fact, I was just talking to someone no more than 15 minutes ago, who was trying to access a psychiatrist.”
The shortage is most severe in the northwest corner and South Jersey. He said the longer a patient must wait for psychiatric care, the more acute the symptoms become.
The model is designed to be flexible, Codey said. New psychiatrists can set up in their own offices, at a public health center, wherever — as long as it’s in an area with need of more mental health care.
Codey said he hopes the tuition reimbursement program will pass by July 1.