New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy enacted a new law on Monday that supporters say will tackle the challenges faced by individuals living with sickle cell disease — which significantly affects Black Americans compared to other groups.
Democratic Assemblymembers Verlina Reynolds-Jackson (Mercer), Herb Conaway (Burlington), and Linda Carter (Union) sponsored the law, which introduces a three-year sickle cell pilot program in six major cities: Jersey City, Newark, Paterson, Plainfield, Trenton, and Camden.
Reynolds-Jackson said the $10.2 million program will help link patients to critical care and educate people about the disease. It will also help monitor how sickle cell patients are cared for in New Jersey, Democrats said.
“The sickle cell center pilot program will create a robust, well source regional system of specific care units that will be for patients to have access to comprehensive, coordinated team-based medical services, behavioral health, mental health services, social supports, and monitoring services,” Reynolds-Jackson said.
Assemblyman Conaway, who is also a medical professional, addressed the disproportionate impact of Sickle Cell disease on Black and brown communities, claiming the new law will help reduce racial disparities in healthcare.
“One in 13 African Americans carry the sickle cell trait, and one in 365 are born with the disease,” Conaway said. “The legislation being signed into law today is an important step. Not only in connecting patients to the care they need but also in breaking down the racial disparities that are too often present in our health care systems.”
The New Jersey Departments of Health and Human Services will select six federally qualified health centers for the pilot program. Lawmakers said these centers will establish sickle cell treatment facilities in the six municipalities. The program will link outpatient care with inpatient services, promote Sickle Cell education, encourage outreach, and develop a system to monitor Sickle Cell care in New Jersey.
Brandon McCoy, President of the Fund For New Jersey, not only played a pivotal role in crafting the new law but also lent his voice to it, pulling inspiration from his personal journey with sickle cell anemia. “This is a state where, depending on where you are, it determines what resources you have access to,” McCoy said. “This is a very treatable disease. It’s a very manageable disease, but not if we make it hard for people to access those resources and those treatments.”