Number of N.J. mental health providers below national average

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    (Photo via ShutterStock)

    The number of mental health providers per resident in New Jersey is lower than the national average, according to a national analysis by the Robert Wood Johnson foundation.

    It’s one of the factors contributing to people’s health included in the annual County Health Rankingsreport.

    New Jersey counties, on average, had 826 residents per provider. The providers include therapists, psychologists, psychiatrists, licensed clinical social workers and so on. The national average is 753 residents per provider.

    Phil Lubitz of the advocacy organization NAMI New Jersey says provider shortage has been an ongoing issue that affects the lives of people with mental illnesses.

    “Especially for somebody who needs care in the public mental health system, it’s not unusual for people to wait 30 to 90 days in some cases before they can have an outpatient appointment,” Lubitz said.

    Many of those waiting for help then end up in psychiatric hospitals because their condition deteriorates, he said. And there’s a shortage of psychiatric beds, forcing many people to wait for more than two days in emergency care settings before being transferred to a psychiatric hospital.

    Lack of access is especially dire when it comes to psychiatrists, said Robert Davison who heads the mental health association of Essex County.

    “There’s also a shortage of psychiatrists who are willing to see people with severe and persistent mental illness,” he explained. “For the most part, that is a Medicaid population, and the Medicaid reimbursement for New Jersey is one of the lowest in the nation.”

    Most mentally ill people on Medicaid seek help at mental health centers or psychiatric hospitals, but they don’t see a psychiatrist often enough. In terms of residents per provider, Mercer County ranked best with 507 residents per provider, while Salem County was worst with 3,528 residents per provider.

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