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Report details broken promises of New Jersey behavioral health industry

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By Mark McCullough ·

A new report exposes how New Jersey’s top behavioral health providers have prospered while leaving the state’s patients and their own employees behind.

The report, “A Crisis of Accountability,” was released by AFSCME Council 63, NUHHCE District 1199J and AFSCME’s United We Heal movement of behavioral health workers.

The report found that “large behavioral health providers in New Jersey have gained new financial stability in recent years, but front-line caregivers continue to struggle with low pay and poor working conditions,” NJ Spotlight News reported.

Key findings include:

“This report makes clear why change is needed in the behavioral health industry in New Jersey,” said AFSCME New Jersey Executive Director Steven Tully. “Even after workers for SERV Behavioral Health in Mercer County voted overwhelmingly to form a union in December 2019, they still do not have a contact.”

NUHHCE District 1199J President Susan Cleary said reforming the industry requires input from workers.

“The reality is that you cannot fix the behavioral health crisis in New Jersey and provide better care for consumers and clients without giving the front-line workers who deliver those services a voice in how to accomplish it,” she said. “Providers have had years to improve the quality of care and stabilize the workforce, and the results, exposed in this report, speak for themselves.”

“When workers like myself have a voice, we can create a workplace environment that is inclusive and rewarding,” said Ratna Joshi-Nelson, a family coordinator at CarePlus NJ, Inc. and a member of NUHHCE District 1199J. “Here, I know my voice is respected, my views are welcome and I am a valued member of the CarePlus family.”

Dana Lugassy, a psychiatric social worker at the George J. Otlowski Sr. Center for Mental Health Care and member of AFSCME New Jersey, said she has worked for union and nonunion worksites, and “the differences couldn’t be clearer.”

“When I worked for SERV, it always felt like we were trying to make miracles happen because we never had what we needed to really get the job done,” she said. “Now, I can speak up on behalf of my consumers so they get the care they need not just to survive, but to thrive.”

Read the full report here.

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