Assisted Outpatient Treatment Services Program Offers Care and Hope to Those With Severe Mental Illness

Care Plus NJ, Inc. (CarePlus) was awarded a $300,000 grant from the New Jersey Division of Mental Health and Addiction Services (DMHAS) to provide the Involuntary Outpatient Commitment (IOC) program to those with mental illness in Bergen County, New Jersey. The program is based on a nationwide law that offers intensive care and case management on an outpatient basis to individuals who fit established criteria.

CarePlus will be providing services to those who are part of the IOC program through their new Assisted Outpatient Treatment Services (AOTS) program, lead by director James Nono at their Hasbrouck Heights center.

The Outpatient Commitment Law – already enacted in 42 states – was signed by Gov. Jon Corzine in 2009 to help those who may not be successful in engaging with traditional therapy and medication regimens. This provides an option for individuals who have mental illness and meet certain criteria for commitment, yet do not exhibit a foreseeable danger to themselves or others. The program provides them with the highly-structured and monitored care they need, while having the opportunity to re-engage with a more regular life routine and activities, including employment.

The IOC program – which has been running in five New Jersey counties since 2009 – Burlington, Essex, Hudson, Ocean, Warren and Union – was expanded to the entire state by Gov. Christie’s administration earlier this year.

CarePlus, a northern New Jersey mental health care organization that treats individuals on an outpatient basis, will be offering the services in the Bergen county area.

While the mental health community is divided on the merits of the program – some seeing it as a “stigmatizing”, others as a breach of one’s civil rights – CarePlus has looked at it strictly from the care perspective.

Citing that many who suffer from mental illness do not recognize their symptoms – a condition known as Anosognosia, a condition in which a person who suffers from a disability seems unaware that they have such a disability – involuntary outpatient commitment offers an alternative to being committed to an inpatient facility yet still receiving the care they need.

This lack of “self-awareness” provides many challenges to families, law enforcement, and treatment providers, as the individuals who really need treatment view it as unnecessary and therefore reject it. Often though, these same individuals are rational in many other aspects of their lives, making it possible to engage them by facilitating activities and providing for needs in a way that is consistent with their belief system.

“For many individuals who meet certain criteria, their only option has been commitment to an inpatient program, and often times they are discharged after a few days without proper stabilization or an adequate treatment plan,” stated CarePlus President/CEO Joseph Masciandaro. “Involuntary outpatient commitment establishes a court monitored program, with an opportunity to both treat and engage the individuals in ongoing care, not just treatment of symptoms. CarePlus provides the assistance and care these individuals require to improve their health, and move on to live their lives.”

The AOTS program is amongst many specialized care programs designed by CarePlus to ensure the highest level of engagement for individuals who require mental health care. CarePlus has experience in working with individuals with varying levels of mental illness including those who may be dealing with anxiety or depression, on through to those who suffer from more severe, symptomatic conditions such as schizophrenia, which may require more intensive approaches to care. These intensive cases are often engaged in their Integrated Case Management Services (ICMS) and Intensive Outpatient Treatment and Support Services (IOTSS), to help the patients establish treatment regimens and recovery plans so that they may work towards eliminating symptoms and re-engaging with their families and lives.

Individuals will be referred to the CarePlus Assisted Outpatient Treatment Services (AOTS) program through the court system, emergency rooms, medical professionals, and screening programs.

CarePlus feels uniquely qualified for this role given their experience in the community, and the wide range of follow-up services – including substance abuse treatment, case management, and housing assistance – that they can provide to those patients once they have met their commitment requirements.

“Our goal is to ensure that individuals get the urgent care they need, while establishing their own personal responsibility for ongoing care once they are released from the program to help maintain their recovery goals for the longer term,” Masciandaro included.

Those who have friends or family members who they feel should be considered for this program should contact AOTS Director James Nono at 201-478-4183.

Updated 10/31/2014 from original announcement on 06/23/2014