TRENTON – Amid the increase in mental health issues faced by adolescents in the wake of the pandemic, state health officials say they are reassessing the number of pediatric psychiatric beds available around New Jersey.

Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli told the Assembly Budget Committee in a hearing Monday that a full review is underway of the currently licensed beds.

“We’re in the midst of reviewing all of the beds that were certified, whether they’ve been brought up and are accepting patients, and then where pediatric inpatient services fit into that,” Persichilli said. “So, it is one of our highest priorities.”

Mental health services, both inpatient and outpatient, are often in short supply, leading to long waits for sometimes urgent help.

“You may recall during the Christie administration there was a call. Eight hundred beds were approved,” Persichilli said. “There was a lawsuit that I guess decertified over 300 of those beds.”

“Pediatric psych beds are throughout the state in varying levels,” she said. “The review that we’re doing is to examine whether we think we have enough voluntary pediatric beds.”

Deborah Hartel, the state’s deputy commissioner for integrated health, said the Department of Health is examining needs for very specific types of beds, such as for people with developmental disabilities.

“Part of what we’re hearing from the emergency rooms and some of our stakeholders in the community is really related to psychiatric beds for behavior management,” Hartel said.

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Assemblywoman Annette Chaparro, D-Hudson, said families are frustrated by the lack of available beds, insurance coverage, child psychologists and child psychiatrists.

“Hospitals need this desperately,” Chaparro said. “And if you’re bringing your child there to the emergency room, it’s in dire need. And the last thing they need is to be in a holding tank and wait and wait. You could imagine what that does to the individual that needs help.”

Michael Symons is the Statehouse bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com

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