Among the challenges that can keep people trapped in poverty is lack of access to mental health treatment. The state Senate has approved a bill that would reimburse medical school tuition for young doctors specializing in psychiatry who agree to work in underserved areas. One of its sponsors is State Sen. Richard Codey. He spoke with NJTV News Anchor Mary Alice Williams.
Williams: Would this be enough to alleviate the problem of mental health services?
Codey: When we realize it’s documented, that one out of every five New Jersey families has a loved one with a serious mental illness. Now that’s documented, so it’s much more extensive than that. And we all know psychiatrists are hard to find, hard to get an appointment. If we can say to them, “Hey, we’ll pay your first year tuition if you stay one year and for every year thereafter we will pay those up to four years, up to $100-something worth.” We’re trying to incentivize them to come into the unused area, the rural areas, the urban areas where there are no psychiatrists. These people need help just like everyone else. Access to good health is not a privilege, it’s a right.
Williams: You know programs like this have been available to dentists, doctors, nurses. Why not mental health services?
Codey: We all know there’s a stigma to mental illness.
Codey: Yeah. I think we’re starting to turn a corner, clearly, because more and more people are talking about it. It used to be in the old days, you didn’t talk about it at all. When you throw in Alzheimer’s, again it’s a stigma. A lot of people raise money for other causes, but they’re kind of a little bit ashamed still when it comes to mental illness, but I said we’re turning a corner.
Williams: Did the mental health stipulation in the Affordable Care Act have any direct effect on the state?
Codey: It can only have a direct effect if in fact now that you have that coverage you’ve got to begin to find a psychiatrist. What moved me, I was so happy we got that in Obamacare, but what good is it if you can’t have a psychiatrist?
Williams: And if there’s not enough psychiatrists out there…
Codey: It’s as simple as that.
Williams: What are the chances this is going to get passed through the Assembly and then signed by the governor?
Codey: Oh, I think it will be passed. Whether it gets signed or not, you never know with Gov. Christie.
Williams: Let me pivot to another subject. Gov. Christie has frozen funds for domestic and sexual violence victims and services to those people, prevention services as well. You’ve called that shameful, outrageous, unconscionable.
Codey: …And I would say callous as well. You talk about $12 million to help women avoid rapes, to help them when they are raped, for helping in situations of domestic violence, I could go on and on and on. This is, unfortunately, as we all know in the last few years, and it’s the right thing, domestic violence is finally coming to the forefront. We all knew it existed, but we never really talked about it. Again, a stigma. Now that we’re talking about it we have to provide the funds and the help for those women to get out of those situations.
Williams: The budget is a big, huge bulk of money and there’s some that has to go here, and some has to go to mental health services. Is there enough in the budget to have all of these?
Codey: It all depends on what your priorities are, and obviously the governor didn’t think these monies were a priority. I disagree. I think the whole Senate and the Assembly disagree as well.
Williams: There’s two subjects that are separate outside the budget. One is the Transportation Trust Fund which is currently underfunded. People are out of work, roads projects aren’t being done. There’s reportedly, Senate President Sweeney submitted a proposal to gradually increase the gas tax.
Codey: I think that was a good idea to stagger it over the next couple years.
Williams: Does it have legs? Is that going to work?
Codey: I think it does. I think it really does. Whether the governor agrees or not. Privately he says he wants to see the trust fund be funded and get people back to work and make our bridges and our roads safe.
Williams: Do you expect that to happen soon?
Codey: I would expect it to happen real soon. This week or next.
Williams: Next week, the governor’s going to be busy in Cleveland.
Codey: You know, he has time when we pass a bill to sign it.
Williams: One more topic and that’s Gov. Christie’s wholesale reform of education funding…
Codey: I would not call that reform.
Williams: To be clear he wants to pay each district a flat rate per student, rather than giving more to underserved populations.
Codey: I think it’s outrageous. When you look at what a child starts with in say Millburn or Chatham, great towns, as opposed to urban New Jersey. They’re not equal. We all know that in terms of what they’re able to do.
Williams: So we know how you’re going to vote. What is your sense of the Legislature?
Codey: Oh, the Legislature is not for his proposal at all and he knows that was never going to pass. I think he did it for political reasons to appear to certain people. You’re appealing to the worst in people. I unfortunately have to say this, just like Donald Trump.