Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Awards Two Grants to Aid Hackensack Meridian Health in Advancing Behavioral Health and Substance Use Disorder Treatment   

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Awards Two Grants to Aid Hackensack Meridian Health in Advancing Behavioral Health and Substance Use Disorder Treatment

Two recent grants from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) for more than $3.2 million will enable Hackensack Meridian Health, the largest, most comprehensive and integrated health care network in New Jersey, to advance behavioral health and substance use disorder care for patients in need. 

“The need for comprehensive behavioral health services throughout the state and country are great and the demand is only growing,” says Robert C. Garrett, FACHE, CEO of Hackensack Meridian Health. “In order to effectively combat and treat what has become an epidemic, we must employ a variety of tactics - treating patients in need, increasing the number of trained physicians and increasing education about the best way to help individuals in crisis. We are thankful to SAMHSA for the important work that they do and for providing us with assistance to further the meaningful work we are doing within our communities.”

The first grant, totaling $2.6 million, will expand outpatient treatment for substance use disorders at Hackensack Meridian Jersey Shore University Medical Center and Hackensack Meridian JFK University Medical Center, as well as provide funding to expand the Addiction Medicine Fellowship at Jersey Shore University Medical Center to rotate up to JFK University Medical Center. Known as I.C.A.R.E., or Integrated Care for Addiction Recovery Expansion, the program will focus on adults, aged 18 and older, with opioid use disorder (OUD) in Middlesex, Monmouth and Ocean Counties where drug-related deaths represented 21% of OUD deaths statewide, with that number increasing during the pandemic.

“Despite being the historic epicenter of the opioid epidemic in New Jersey, this geographic catchment area lacks robust addiction medicine hubs that create a continuum of care for individuals with OUD across emergency departments, inpatient floors and outpatient clinics,” says Ramon Solhkhah, M.D., chair of the Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Health at Jersey Shore University Medical Center. “This program will create hubs at Jersey Shore University Medical Center and JFK University Medical Center to expand access to all forms of medication-assisted treatment (MAT), with an emphasis on diversion-resistant practices, in conjunction with existing psychosocial and recovery support services.”

The addiction medicine hub at each hospital will consist of a four-member team (including a lead physician, clinical lead, addiction medicine fellow and peer recovery coach), who will enable  systematic screening, initiation and maintenance of a key segment of the nearly 18,000 individuals with substance use disorders treated at both hospitals annually. The teams would also provide training on the Drug Addiction Treatment Act of 2000 to allow practitioners to dispense or prescribe buprenorphine for the treatment of OUD in settings other than opioid treatment programs, utilize telehealth and partner with organizations to increase access to MAT and reduce behavioral health disparities.

The goals of the program are to increase the number of individuals with OUD from the catchment area receiving MAT, decrease illicit opioid drug use and prescription opioid misuse at their six-month follow-up and increase the number of patients who are being treated with diversion resistant MAT treatments. 

“Through this program, we anticipate being able to help around 1,900 people recover from their OUD and go on to live better, more productive lives,” Dr. Solhkhah continued. “This program will be of great benefit to those who are struggling and we are thankful to SAMHSA for recognizing the need and helping partners like Hackensack Meridian Health tackle it head on.”

The second grant, awarded for $623,713, will further the Mental Health Awareness in Identifying Disturbances in Emotions (AIDE) program. It will develop a Mental Health Awareness Training (MHAT) toolkit in four NJ counties by providing training to Hackensack Meridian Health team members at Hackensack Meridian Hackensack University Medical Center, JFK University Medical Center, Jersey Shore University Medical Center and Hackensack Meridian Carrier Clinic to improve community training and prepare appropriate and safe practices to respond to individuals with mental disorders, including serious mental illness and serious emotional disturbances. Additionally, the program will be rolled out to staff in various school districts, including: Hackensack, Lodi, Sayreville, Neptune, Montgomery and Hillsborough. Those same municipalities will also receive training for law enforcement officers. 

“AIDE is designed to help both children and adults alike,” says Jackie Bienenstock, DNP, director of the Acute Care Unit at Carrier Clinic. “It is not only essential for the community at large, but for health care providers who may be dealing with challenges like difficult COVID-19 related environments, or teachers who may be under a large amount of stress. For law enforcement officers, the program is two-fold. It will help officers gain an understanding of individuals living with mental illness within the communities they serve and also help those officers who may, at times, struggle with their own mental health. It’s an invaluable resource for so many and we are grateful to be able to expand this program beyond the walls of Carrier Clinic and into communities in need.”

In medical emergency interventions, there can be confusion and lack of awareness about best practices and interventions for managing panic attacks or suicidal thoughts. The MHFA toolkit offers a framework for managing the treatment of individuals experiencing mental health or substance use crises. It helps identify risk factors and warning signs for mental health illness and addiction concerns, including depression, mood disorders, anxiety disorders, trauma, eating disorders, suicidal thoughts and behaviors and substance use disorders. MHFA provides strategies for assisting patients in both crisis and non-crisis situations.

The program will begin with the team members at the identified Hackensack Meridian Health hospitals and roll out to educators and law enforcement over the course of five years, ultimately training more than 2,300 people in adult and youth mental health first aid.

To learn how you can help to support behavioral health and substance use disorder programs at Hackensack Meridian Health, please contact Michael Loch, director of development for Behavioral Health at Hackensack Meridian Health Foundation, at 908-281-1495, by email at, or visit

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