Newswise — Hackensack Meridian Health Jersey Shore University Medical Center announced today that it has been awarded a $225,000 grant from The Nicholson Foundation to implement the Cherokee Health Systems model of providing integrated behavioral health interventions in primary care settings. Jersey Shore University Medical Center is one of six New Jersey health care organizations selected for this initiative.

The Cherokee Health Systems’ model is an integrated, team-based approach to patient care pioneered in Knoxville, TN that has proven to improve patient health outcomes and is financially sustainable. The model embeds a Behavioral Health Consultant within a primary care team so that patients’ behavioral health issues (including mental health and substance misuse) can be addressed simultaneously with their physical health issues.

“Our Family Health Center provides primary care to more than 5,000 patients on an annual basis,” explains David S. Kountz, M.D., vice president of academic diversity and co-chief academic officer of Hackensack Meridian Health. “By integrating proven behavioral health screenings and protocols into the more than 14,000 visits we see each year, there’s tremendous opportunity to provide a new level of much needed care to an underserved population.”

“Through two grants provided by the NJ Department of Children and Families, Hackensack Meridian Health has been successful in integrating behavioral health care into pediatric primary care practices throughout New Jersey,” explains Ramon Solhkhah, M.D., chairman of the Department of Psychiatry at Jersey Shore University Medical Center and corporate medical director of Meridian Behavioral Health. “By partnering with Nicholson, we are able to continue with great momentum, expand the care we provide and truly help to improve the health and well-being of the community.”

Through the grant, Jersey Shore University Medical Center will receive training and significant technical assistance from Cherokee Health Systems. The grant also supports additional staff salaries. Physicians, nurse practitioners, behavioral health consultants, and other providers will learn to work as a team to provide integrated care for their patients.

“Integrated, team-based care will greatly improve overall health care for vulnerable patients in New Jersey,” said Barbara Kang, senior healthcare program officer of The Nicholson Foundation. “Although behavioral health has traditionally been separated from the physical health care delivery system, a solid research and clinical consensus has existed for decades that integrated clinics that treat the ‘whole person’ produce better outcomes for individuals while lowering total costs to the system.”

Behavioral health care is in short supply in New Jersey, especially for Medicaid patients and other vulnerable populations. The Mental Health Association in New Jersey has estimated average wait times for community-based mental health outpatient services of three to six months in most counties in New Jersey. When individuals are unable to receive behavioral health treatment when they seek it, research shows that their conditions are likely to remain untreated and often worsen. The $1,350,000 in funding provided over the 15-month grant period will help narrow the gap between the need for treatment and its availability. Patients with mild-to-moderate behavioral health issues will be treated in the primary care setting, before their conditions become acute—which allows behavioral health specialists to concentrate on those with more severe issues.

Other selected organizations to receive funding include Eric B. Chandler Health Center (New Brunswick), Visiting Nurse Association of Central Jersey Community Health Center (Asbury Park), AtlantiCare (Atlantic City), Metropolitan Family Health Network (Jersey City), and Kennedy Family Health Services (Somerdale).

“Our ultimate goal is to make integrated care ‘the new normal’ throughout the state of New Jersey,” said Arturo Brito, executive director of The Nicholson Foundation. “Our intention is to continue supporting the expansion of the Cherokee model to more clinics in the future, thereby transforming the way care is delivered to vulnerable populations in New Jersey.”

ABOUT HACKENSACK MERIDIAN HEALTH Hackensack Meridian Health is a leading not-for-profit health care organization that is the most comprehensive and truly integrated health care network in New Jersey, offering a complete range of medical services, innovative research and life-enhancing care. Hackensack Meridian Health comprises 13 hospitals, including two academic medical centers, two children's hospitals and nine community hospitals, physician practices, more than 120 ambulatory care centers, surgery centers, home health services, long-term care and assisted living communities, ambulance services, lifesaving air medical transportation, fitness and wellness centers, rehabilitation centers, and urgent care and after-hours centers. Hackensack Meridian Health has 28,000 team members, more than 6,000 physicians and is a distinguished leader in health care philanthropy, committed to the health and well-being of the communities it serves.

The Network's notable distinctions include having one of only five major academic medical centers in the nation to receive Healthgrades America's 50 Best Hospitals Award for five or more consecutive years, the number one hospital in New Jersey as ranked by U.S. News and World Report, consistently achieving Magnet® recognition for nursing excellence from the American Nurses Credentialing Center, recipient of the John M. Eisenberg Award for Patient Safety and Quality from The Joint Commission and the National Quality Forum, a six-time recipient of Fortune's "100 Best Companies to Work For," one of the "20 Best Workplaces in Health Care" in the nation, and the number one "Best Place to Work for Women." Hackensack Meridian Health is a member of AllSpire Health Partners, an interstate consortium of leading health systems, to focus on the sharing of best practices in clinical care and achieving efficiencies. 

The hospitals of Hackensack Meridian Health include: academic medical centers – Hackensack University Medical Center in Hackensack, Jersey Shore University Medical Center in Neptune; children's hospitals – Joseph M. Sanzari Children's Hospital in Hackensack, K. Hovnanian Children's Hospital in Neptune; community hospitals – Ocean Medical Center in Brick, Riverview Medical Center in Red Bank, Mountainside Medical Center in Montclair, Palisades Medical Center in North Bergen, Raritan Bay Medical Center in Perth Amboy, Southern Ocean Medical Center in Manahawkin, Bayshore Medical Center in Holmdel, Raritan Bay Medical Center in Old Bridge, and Pascack Valley Medical Center in Westwood.

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