Hackensack Meridian Health CEO Robert C. Garrett Calls For A Mental Health Moonshot During POLITICO 2024 Health Care Summit in Washington, D.C.   

Hackensack Meridian Health CEO Robert C. Garrett Calls For A Mental Health Moonshot During POLITICO 2024 Health Care Summit in Washington, D.C.

Expanding access to mental health services remains top priority for the network in 2024

Hackensack Meridian Health, New Jersey’s largest and most comprehensive health network, is proud to announce that CEO Robert C. Garrett was a featured speaker at POLITICO’s 2024 Health Care Summit in Washington, D.C. on March 13, 2024, where he called for a “Mental Health Moonshot” to improve behavioral healthcare in the nation. Mr. Garrett spoke about the importance of committing resources to transform mental healthcare, as well as the ways in which Hackensack Meridian Health is expanding access to – and modernizing – mental health care, combating stigma and focusing on breakthrough research for  treatments. 

Mr. Garrett shared Hackensack Meridian Health’s approach to advancing mental health services and the network’s commitment to investing in innovative treatment options. He also highlighted the important role technology is playing in advancing treatment, including wearable devices that can monitor behavior, detect depression, and lead to early intervention for patients. 

“With New Jersey and the nation facing an unparalleled mental health epidemic, we are calling for a mental health moonshot to write a new narrative for behavioral health care,” Mr. Garrett said. “We need a multi-pronged strategy including expanding access to care, better coordination of care, and innovation of treatments.’’

As the nation committed to improving cancer care a generation ago that has resulted in a nearly 30 percent reduction in cancer deaths, Mr. Garrett called on a similar targeted approach to improve treatment for mental illness and addiction to save millions of lives.  

Hackensack Meridian Health has made it a strategic priority for the network to make high-quality, compassionate mental health care services more accessible to the patients and communities it serves. Some recent investments include:

  • An expansion of the Hackensack Meridian Health Carrier Clinic pediatric and adolescent inpatient unit to 52 beds. The expansion, to be completed by late 2025, will allow psychiatrists to treat and provide residential services for patients as young as 7 years old. 
  • Last year, in response to behavioral health needs in the community, the network invested $24 million in opening the state-of-the-art Carrier Behavioral Health at Raritan Bay Medical Center. The clinic has 81 beds and provides innovative treatments, including electroconvulsive therapy.
  • The Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine has expanded its behavioral health program, opening additional residency spots for medical students who are studying psychiatry.
  • Nurses throughout the network are receiving specialized training to help them identify and assist patients in the emergency department who may be experiencing suicidal thoughts. The new training program is part of the network’s partnership with the Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide.
  • Hackensack Meridian Health’s innovation accelerator program, Bear’s Den, is investing in technology that will help make progress toward addressing mental health.
  • Given a nationwide shortage of psychiatrists and psychologists to meet the need, Hackensack Meridian Health has been innovative in developing a  Telepsych Hub that is available day and night in our emergency departments to assess patients coming into the ED either with a primary behavioral health concern, or a secondary concern, breaking down barriers of access. 

Congress and the President have recently made some strides in advancing legislation to expand behavioral health care, including budget bills last week, extending Medicaid coverage for specific treatments of substance use disorders.  Mr. Garrett said the progress is appreciated, but more needs to be done to make mental healthcare more accessible. 

“Too often mental health and addiction play an outsized role in the social determinants of health of a patient, along with food and housing insecurity,’’ said Mr. Garrett. “That is why Hackensack Meridian Health, through a partnership with UniteUs, connects patients with community services that in most cases they did not even know exist. Our organization has done 1.5 million screenings and made more than 3 million referrals, with more than half of the referrals for behavioral health services.’’ 

The POLITICO event brought together members of Congress, federal regulators, and industry leaders to discuss the future of medicine, including the latest in health tech, new drugs, brain treatments, diagnostics, health equity, workforce strains, and more. Participants also considered the ways America's health care community is striving to meet the evolving needs of patients and practitioners, adopt new technologies, and navigate skeptical public attitudes toward science. 

This is POLITICO’s third health summit. In 2023, Mr. Garrett participated in an executive conversation with Heidi Sommer, vice president, Client Partnerships, POLITICO. In 2022, Mr. Garrett participated in POLITICO’s inaugural health care summit, where he addressed the importance of creating more equity in health care through the Social Determinants of Health.

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