An involuntary commitment, or civil commitment, proceeding, is a summary legal action filed in order to obtain a court order to require a mentally ill individual to receive necessary psychiatric treatment against his or her wishes, pursuant to N.J. Rule of Court §4:74-7 and N.J.S.A. §30:4-27.2. Typically, the involuntary commitment process is initiated through a mental health screening, but the process can also be filed by a prosecutor or the Attorney General. Only individuals who are shown by clear and convincing evidence to present a danger to themselves may be involuntarily committed.
An order for involuntary commitment must be issued within 72 hours, and the hearing itself must be held in no more than 20 days. The individual who is the subject of an involuntary commitment hearing has the right to an attorney to represent her in the commitment proceedings. The existence of involuntary commitment proceedings does not mean that an individual has been adjudicated incapacitated, nor does it mean that her rights, such as the right to bear arms, the right to drive, the right to have visitors, to receive medical treatment, and to fresh air and exercise, are removed or restricted. The only mechanism to restrict these rights is to obtain a guardianship order from the Superior Court, which is an entirely different proceeding governed by different rules.
By law, the State of New Jersey is required to bear ninety percent of the cost of an involuntary commitment, leaving the remaining ten percent to be borne by the involuntarily committed individual. The financial evaluation process is undertaken by the county adjuster’s office. If it is determined that the individual can afford to pay for the cost of their psychiatric care, the county adjuster seeks a court order requiring the individual to pay for the cost of psychiatric care, which can impose a heavy financial burden on the former patient.
It is important to know that hospitals and the county adjuster’s office are required to follow strict regulations in collection matters arising from emergency hospital admissions and psychiatric emergency screening services. Charity care regulations apply where a financially eligible patient becomes involuntarily committed as the result of a hospital emergency room admission. Newton Medical Center v. D.B., No. A-5101-15T4 (N.J. Super. App.Div., January 17, 2018. The case involved an uninsured patient who was admitted to a hospital emergency room during a psychotic episode, and was involuntarily committed. After the patient’s release, the medical center billed the patient the sum of $65,000 bill for the eleven days of care, reduced the bill due to the patient’s lack of insurance, and attempted to collect on the reduced bill. At the trial level, the Court entered summary judgment in favor of the hospital. The Appellate Division reversed the trial judge’s decision, ruling that the hospital could not recover from the former patient, because it did not contact the patient as required by the charity care regulations.
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Jane Fearn-Zimmer is an Elder and Disability Law, Taxation, and Trusts and Estates attorney. She dedicates her practice to serving clients in the areas of elder and disability law, special needs planning, asset protection, tax and estate planning and estate administration. She also serves as Chair of the Elder & Disability Law section of the NJSBA.