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Walter Kalman Testimony Opposing the DMHAS Transfer
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July 25, 2017

The following testimony was given by Walter Kalman, NASW-NJ Executive Director, before a joint Committee hearing on Governor Christie's plan to transfer the Division of Mental Health and Addiction Services from the Department of Human Services to the Department of Health. There was near-unanimous opposition from everyone who testified. The Assembly is convening on Monday, July 31st to vote to oppose the shift but he Senate has not yet declared an intention to oppose. A joint resolution from the Assembly and Senate is required to block the transfer.


I am Walter Kalman, Executive Director of the National Association of Social Workers for New Jersey, one of the largest chapters of NASW, which is the largest association of professional Social Workers in the world. I am here today speaking on behalf of over 20,000 Social Workers in New Jersey and the many, many thousands of clients we serve each day.

I am here to comment on the proposal by the Governor to transfer the the Division of Mental Health and Addiction Services from the Department of Human Services to the Department of Health.

This proposal is the kind of 'punch in the gut' approach, for which this governor has become infamous, to a problem which requires a sustained, thoughtful, methodical solution in a systemic way which will achieve long term success for the citizens of New Jersey and their families who are equally the victims of the disease of addiction.

The end of an administration is not the time to rearrange the deck chairs to solve a problem, now suddenly deemed a crisis with lots of fanfare, which we in the helping professions, have recognized as a developing problem for many years. We do not question that the Governor has been profoundly affected by this problem touching close to home, but the recent recognition of a problem of which we have long been aware does not warrant a quick fix answer in the waning days of this administration. 

Let us take the Governor's call to arms as a signal that the severity of the problem has now reached the highest office in the state and use that to inform and motivate the general public and begin a serious dialogue and planning effort to address this problem in a comprehensive manner.

As Social Workers, we learn to look at the person in their environment, examine the communities in which the person lives, works and recreates, seek out the resources and supports available to them, motivate and mobilize their strengths to address the problem. So too must government look at those aspects of the problem and organize and focus its resources in a meaningful process in search of a successful outcome for its citizens.

It's taken years, largely during this administration, to transfer the Division of Addictions from the Department of Health, a department largely known for its regulatory role over services, to the Department of Human Services, more engaged in the process of delivering services, and now it is proposed to reverse that entire process. Instead of all the bureaucratic energies required to facilitate such a change, we should be spending our efforts in analyzing, evaluating, refining and creating the services needed to confront this problem, and its many tentacles that reach throughout our communities.

I ask that your committees recommend that both houses of the Legislature pass a resolution to reject this reorganization proposal and instead propose a task force on addiction, such as was done in the administration of Governor Codey to develop a comprehensive plan to address the issues of mental health of which he has long been a champion. Such an effort would would yield far better outcomes than would this short sighted effort which is more a temporary treatment than a careful prescription for a cure.

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