Report Generates Coverage

A new report exposes how New Jersey’s top behavioral health providers have prospered while leaving the state’s patients and their own employees behind.

The report, “A Crisis of Accountability,” was released by AFSCME Council 63NUHHCE District 1199J and AFSCME’s United We Heal movement of behavioral health workers.

The report found that “large behavioral health providers in New Jersey have gained new financial stability in recent years, but front-line caregivers continue to struggle with low pay and poor working conditions,” NJ Spotlight News reported.

Key findings include:

  • Provider agency finances have dramatically improved. Between 2014 and 2018, 87% of the leading providers had improved their yearly financial performance.
  • The CEOs are rewarding themselves. Between 2014 and 2018, spending on top executive compensation for New Jersey’s leading providers increased 28.7%, with the median executive pay averaging $223,581 per year, and with more than 20% of executives making over $300,000 per year.
  • Providers bill the state for services that they never deliver. Despite a 2019 audit exposing such practices, providers continued to bill for services without ensuring patients receive them.
  • The staff responsible for providing services are falling behind. Per-employee spending on salaries and wages for program service staff increased by a mere 0.7% between 2014 and 2018. For employers with 500 employees or more, per-employee spending on salaries decreased by 2.5% during that period.
  • Workers reported retaliation when they spoke up about safety or fraud concerns and were cheated out of wages and benefits. One-third of New Jersey’s 30 leading behavioral health providers have been cited for wage and hour violations worth hundreds of thousands of dollars since 2010. Workers report having faced harsh retaliation for speaking up about the quality of patient care, including unsafe staffing ratios, Medicaid fraud, neglect, abuse, dilapidated conditions, and the lack of adequate background checks.

“This report makes clear why change is needed in the behavioral health industry in New Jersey,” said AFSCME New Jersey Executive Director Steven Tully. “Even after workers for SERV Behavioral Health in Mercer County voted overwhelmingly to form a union in December 2019, they still do not have a contact.”

NUHHCE District 1199J President Susan Cleary said reforming the industry requires input from workers.

“The reality is that you cannot fix the behavioral health crisis in New Jersey and provide better care for consumers and clients without giving the front-line workers who deliver those services a voice in how to accomplish it,” she said. “Providers have had years to improve the quality of care and stabilize the workforce, and the results, exposed in this report, speak for themselves.”

“When workers like myself have a voice, we can create a workplace environment that is inclusive and rewarding,” said Ratna Joshi-Nelson, a family coordinator at CarePlus NJ, Inc. and a member of NUHHCE District 1199J. “Here, I know my voice is respected, my views are welcome and I am a valued member of the CarePlus family.”

Dana Lugassy, a psychiatric social worker at the George J. Otlowski Sr. Center for Mental Health Care and member of AFSCME New Jersey, said she has worked for union and nonunion worksites, and “the differences couldn’t be clearer.”

“When I worked for SERV, it always felt like we were trying to make miracles happen because we never had what we needed to really get the job done,” she said. “Now, I can speak up on behalf of my consumers so they get the care they need not just to survive, but to thrive.”

Read the full report here.