Jamie Trabbold, the 36-year-old New Jersey mother of a son with autism and bipolar disorder, is advocating for a new state law that would help others like her son.
According to a report by Courier Post Online, the new bill would push hospitals to create waiting rooms and treatment spaces designed to accommodate patients with autism and other disabilities experiencing a mental health crisis. Hospitals would also provide mandatory training for staff on how to handle patients with special needs.
Trabbold’s motivation to advocate for the bill stems from a harrowing incident in 2018, when her son Ronnie (then 9-years-old) spent six days in a South Jersey emergency department in the midst of a suicidal crisis. Trabbold was told that no hospital in New Jersey could provide adequate care for Ronnie. As a result, she and her son were forced to wait in a cubicle with nothing more than a bed and bathroom until a treatment bed opened at a Pennsylvania in-patient facility.
Speaking to lawmakers, Trabbold said the U.S. medical system is “those with developmental and mental health disabilities.” Statistically, New Jersey has the highest rate of autism in the United States. According to the nonprofit organization Autism New Jersey, families and healthcare providers in the state are struggling to find appropriate care for approximately 24,000 children and adults with disabilities and severe, challenging behaviors. Some hospitals have already taken steps to meet the needs of those with disabilities, including Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick, Capital Health Medical Center in Hopewell, and Community Medical Center in Tom’s River, which has included additional training for emergency staff.
Trabbold’s bill, titled “Ronnie’s Rally,” has gained support from autism organizations like the Arc of New Jersey and Autism New Jersey. Eric Eberman, Autism New Jersey’s public policy director, described the bill as a step in the right direction, but added that emergency departments are not ideal for people with autism to begin with, due to not offering a lot of areas where they can be calm or treated in a quick manner.
In a letter to Trabbold, New Jersey Senate President Steve Sweeney wrote that the draft bill will be reviewed. He also affirmed his commitment to “ensuring we have the appropriate resources and supports for residents with disabilities is something that is of utmost importance to me, and it is essential that our health facilities are properly equipped to care for this population.”
Trabbold, who is fighting metastatic breast cancer, said she is motivated to ensure that Ronnie is cared for after she is gone.
“I need to do something,” she was quoted as saying in Courier Post Online’s report, “and I need to make sure that when I’m no longer here, that those who have to take care of him know exactly where to go to take care of him, so they don’t have to go through what I went through. Moms know best.”