Hackensack Meridian Health Launches Nation’s First Urgent Care Center with Behavioral Health Services

September 20, 2019

Former U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy joins in celebration of opening of center, which will ease burden on emergency services and enhance care options

Hackensack Meridian Health, New Jersey’s largest and most comprehensive health network, announced today that it has launched the first medically integrated urgent care center with behavioral health in the country, a major part of a comprehensive strategy to improve access, better coordinate care and innovate treatment for people struggling with mental health issues and addiction.

“This first-of-a-kind concept will help us transform behavioral health care in New Jersey and beyond,” said Robert C. Garrett, CEO of Hackensack Meridian Health. “It is so important that we give patients options for high-quality, convenient and affordable health care outside the walls of hospitals.’’

Patients who use this new urgent care center will have access to a behavioral health team including mental health technicians, licensed clinical social workers, advance practice nurses and, if required, a psychiatrist via telemedicine. These new behavioral health services will improve treatment the following ways:

Increase access to treatment for behavioral health patients in an appropriate setting.

Provide more timely care for people who may have to wait to see a specialist.

Reduce the burden on already stressed hospital emergency departments.

Provide more coordinated and comprehensive care to improve patient outcomes.

Address the stigma associated with mental health by affording patients a safe and confidential place to access the care they need.

Provide immediate access to more intensive care it necessary.

“Everyone needs a ‘checkup from the neck up’ at certain points in life, but our current health care system doesn’t make that easy,” said former Rep. Patrick Kennedy, who joined Hackensack Meridian officials, lawmakers and other guests to celebrate the ribbon cutting. The center is located at 2040 Route 33 in Neptune, across from Hackensack Meridian Health’s Jersey Shore University Medical Center.

“This behavioral health urgent care center is a game changer in that it acknowledges behavioral health as an essential component of overall health and makes it easy for people to connect to treatment,’’ said Mr. Kennedy. “Breaking down barriers to care helps everyone—individuals, families, and the community at large.”Hackensack Meridian Health is taking a leadership role in behavioral health care at a time when life expectancy in the US is declining, in part due to the increases in opioid-related deaths and suicide.

Other major statistics reveal why Hackensack Meridian Health is working to dramatically improve behavioral health care:

New Jersey lost more than 3,100 people last year to overdoses.

One in five adults experiences a mental health issue in the U.S.

An estimated 50 percent of patients today who are seen in primary care offices, urgent care settings and emergency departments have a behavioral health need.

Among those conditions, depression is the leading cause of disability in the United States among those 18 to 44 years old.

60 percent of people with mental health issues did not receive care in the prior year.

“Adding psychology to urgent care services allows us to treat patients with behavioral health issues in as non-stigmatizing and non-threatening a manner as possible,” said Donald J. Parker, LCSW, president of Hackensack Meridian Health Carrier Clinic and Behavioral Health Care Transformation Services.

“It is difficult for a general practitioner to have the time and the ability to handle psychological issues when a patient walks through their door. We need equal levels of those skills in urgent care and this concept does just that, addressing physical and psychological health challenges on par with each other,” Mr. Parker said.

In addition to the human toll, the impact of substance abuse and mental health diagnoses dramatically drives up health care costs. Depression ranks among the costliest illnesses in the US and globally. The US loses nearly $200 billion annually in lost productivity due to mental illness.

“We believe this new model will become a shining example of best practices in the treatment of behavioral health patients and we believe it will be replicated nationally,’’ Mr. Garrett said.

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