The addictions constituency again distinguished itself at the Nov. 16 Department of Human Services budget forum by impressing on state officials the critical need to at least sustain current funding levels. While the passion and clarity of the advocates were no different than at the past few year’s hearings, this one saw a shift in emphasis in the testimony, as much of the content dealt with the supports and services that fortify addiction recovery and the fallout that comes when such supports are lacking. While pressing their case, most witnesses took a moment to note that DHS is the lone department to convene a budget forum to hear the concerns of the people it serves.
Each of the citizen advocates who appeared before the panel to stress the need for addiction treatment were members of the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence-New Jersey’s Advocacy Leadership Program, now in its fifth year. Outgoing Division of Mental Health and Addiction Services Deputy Director Raquel Mazon Jeffers, in a recent interview with Perspectives, called the leaders “a force to be reckoned with” for the testimony they have given at this and other forums.
Debra Wentz, chief executive officer of the New Jersey Association of Mental Health and Addiction Agencies, Inc., was among the first to speak. Her testimony touched on the opportunities and the challenges attendant in health care reform. Wentz issued a call for reinvestment in community-based services, maintaining it would be well worth the outlay.
She said that taking the steps to promote recovery would enable New Jersey to see enormous savings by greatly reducing visits to emergency rooms, hospitalizations, other forms of institutionalization, imprisonment and homelessness. The state, she said, will see a savings of as much as $1 billion by investing the federal draw-down funds that will result from increasing people and services covered by Medicaid. She noted that with the challenges providers face as the state moves from contracted services to an Administrative Services Organization and a fee-for-service-based reimbursement system. This system will begin take shape as the Department of Human Services moves forward with the Medicaid waiver that the federal Centers on Medicaid and Medicare recently approved.
As she spoke, Wentz was surrounded by a large number of people in recovery, all wearing a sticker that read, “Addiction is a disease – Let’s treat it that way.” When cued, the group offered in chorus, “Now is the time,” as in when Wentz said, “Now is the time to ensure opportunities for all New Jersey residents to receive the treatment and other support they need … ”
The contingent in recovery had come from Integrity House with Advocacy Leader Earl Lipphardt. He touched on a thread that ran throughout the day’s testimony - that people in recovery give back as an integral part of their new life. He noted that those he brought to the hearing and others in recovery had tallied more than 22,000 hours of community service in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.
Lipphardt testified that the change that comes with a person’s recovery is as dramatic as can be. He said that before those surrounding him came into treatment, you’d likely cross the street to avoid them. After coming out of treatment, he said, “they would become your favorite neighbors.” He spoke several of the recovery supports that were described throughout the day. The issue of employment is clearly essential, as little employment training or job referral services are currently available. Lipphardt noted that just 15 percent of people who leave treatment at Integrity have a job. Far more have legal issues hanging over their heads, as many as 70 percent. This, of course, is a huge impediment to employment.
Lipphardt added that 70 percent of people with an addiction have either a co-occurring mental health problem or a physical ailment...