NJ Officials: Involuntary Commitment Program Works

By Lauren Wanko

At Ocean Mental Health Services in Bayville, Director Kim Veith says the involuntary outpatient commitment program is working.

“The success we have seen is beyond our wildest dreams,” Veith said.

The Department of Human Services tells NJTV News the involuntary outpatient commitment law passed in 2009 gives judges the authority to order severely mentally ill people into outpatient treatment and under some circumstances if a person is found to be dangerous in the imminent future, a judge may order that person committed to psychiatric hospital. Six counties are involved in the program. The Christie administration just issued a request for proposal in an effort to enable the program’s expansion to all 21 counties.

“While there is a mandate, a court order, we really try hard to make it as collaborative as we can. We offer some case management, meaning we help link them to social services. Simultaneously we work with them to get therapy,” Veith said.

Since Ocean County started the program a year ago, 35 people have enrolled in the involuntary outpatient commitment program and right now 22 people are involved in the program.

In Essex County, 35 patients are enrolled.

“Working with most impaired people and they can benefit from case management. As a result of community tenure, homelessness decreased, incarcerations decreased,” Executive Director Bob Davison said.

In New Jersey, nearly 260,000 adults live with serious mental illness. Veith says only a small percentage of that population is considered appropriate for the program. Still opponents insist involuntary outpatient commitment violates patients’ rights.

“You can’t treat people against their will. If I see a patient who needs a root canal, I can’t say sit down you must do it. That’s OK with root canals, but it’s not OK if the patient has no ability to give informed consent,” Sen. Gerald Cardinale said.

Veith says only a small percentage of that population is considered appropriate for the programs. But still opponents insist that involuntary outpatient commitment violates patients rights.

“What I would say about that is I think I fall somewhere in the middle. We sometimes are too attentive to people’s individual rights versus public safety,” said Veith.

The governor’s dedicated an additional $4.5 million to the program, which the Department of Human Service says will be expanded in June if qualified providers submit acceptable proposals and sontracts.