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New Jersey Strengthens its Involuntary Commitment Laws – Legal Reader

A new law in NJ is stirring up controversy among patient advocacy groups.

There is no question that this country needs to continue to make strides in fighting the mental health crisis. The more resources that are available, and the more comfortable people feel coming forward to talk about their experiences and struggles, the better off we will be as a society. With that said, there is a tricky balance to be struck between offering services to people who need them and making those services mandatory. In New Jersey, some people are worried that its involuntary commitment laws might have gone too far. It’s important to understand what this new law says and why it could have an impact on how mental health is addressed both in New Jersey and around the country.
Healthcare facilities in the state of New Jersey have long had the legal right to involuntarily commit mental health patients based on their discretion – mainly if a person proves to pose a harm to themselves or others. However, previously that limit only extended out to 72 hours, after which time the stay would expire and the patient was free to go.
What its new law in place, New Jersey has changed the length of time that a patient can be held for while under evaluation. Another 72 hours has been added, meaning the total length of time of involuntary commitment can extend out to six full days. With that said, there are some stipulations on when the hold can be extended – specifically, the extension can only be used if the healthcare facility can prove that a short-term care facility is not available to accept the patient within those first 72 hours.
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The reason for this change comes down to the limited availability of care facilities to accept patients who need to be moved out of the hospital but aren’t yet ready to be on their own. While in the hospital, the patients get daily visits from a social worker, and thus, they are in a controlled environment where they can be monitored and don’t pose any harm. If the limited capacity of available care facilities is eventually resolved, the need for this new law will be reduced because this same structure can be continued elsewhere.
Despite that motivation, there are many groups in New Jersey that are opposing its law out of fear that it will take rights away from people who have mental health challenges to overcome. Those who oppose the changes are concerned that what will actually happen in the hospital during an extended hold will be comparable to solitary confinement and these patients won’t truly get the attention they need to improve.
During a mental health crisis, there are many people at risk – including the individual experiencing the crisis and the people around them. So, it is understandable that healthcare facilities would want the ability to hold patients until they are stabilized and can be placed in the appropriate setting. But when does that line of thinking go too far? That debate will continue to go on for now in New Jersey and in other states considering similar decisions.
NJ involuntary commitment law alarms mental health advocates
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