Can I See My Client in My NJ Office During The COVID-19 Emergency?

March 24th, 2020
Can I See My Client in My NJ Office During The COVID-19 Emergency?

Many New Jersey psychotherapists have been conducting therapy sessions with their clients using remote technologies during the ongoing COVID-19 emergency. But what about those clients for whom such remote therapy is clinically inappropriate or for whom the technology is inaccessible or too difficult for them to effectively use?  Can a New Jersey mental health clinician see a client in person rather than virtually, given the legal mandates for all but essential businesses to shut?

            The answer is yes, based upon the language of two of NJ Governor Murphy’s very recent Executive Orders.

            Executive Order 104 (2020) was issued on March 16, 2020. It substantially limited the scope of service and hours of operation for restaurants and certain retail establishments. It deemed a subset of businesses as “essential” and held that those businesses could continue operating without limits on their scope of service or hours of operations, absent further amendments by the State Director of Emergency Management. It included “healthcare facilities” within the definition of “essential” businesses.

            Executive Order 107 (2020) was issued on March 21, 2020.   It superseded Executive Order 104 based upon subsequent findings by and recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control but nonetheless makes clear that a NJ psychotherapist can see clients “in person.”  Paragraph 2 states that NJ residents shall remain at their home or residence unless they are leaving it for any of nine specified reasons, including “seeking medical attention, essential social services, or assistances from law enforcement or emergency services”. Paragraph 9 lists the various types of businesses that must close, with subparagraph 9(g) addressing facilities where personal care services are performed that, by their very nature, result in noncompliance with social distancing guidelines.  These include cosmetology shops; barber shops; beauty salons; hair braiding shops; nail salons; spas, including day spas and medical spas, at which solely elective and cosmetic medical procedures are performed; massage parlors, tanning salons, tattoo parlors, and public and private social clubs.   This subparagraph concludes by stating that: “This excludes any health facilities that provide medically necessary or therapeutic services.” (emphasis added).  In similar vein, paragraph 17 states that “Nothing in this Order shall be construed to limit, prohibit, or restrict in any way the provision of health care or medical services to members of the public.” (emphasis added).

            Finally, it is important to note that if a NJ psychotherapist does choose to see clients “in person”, he or she is obligated by Paragraph 7 of Executive Order 107 to “… abide by social distancing practices to the extent practicable while providing essential services. These include all reasonable efforts to keep customers six feet apart and frequent use of sanitizing products on common surfaces.”.

Please reach out to us at Bowne, Barry & Barry at 732.238.8686 with any questions.