May 1, 2017: Patrick J. Kennedy, Dr. Drew Pinsky, Gov. Christie Headline NJHA Annual Mental Health Summit

PRINCETON – National and state experts gathered today to discuss the complexities and successes of mental health and substance use disorder treatment in New Jersey at the New Jersey Hospital Association’s Annual Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder Summit.

The annual Summit brings together healthcare leaders from across the state to discuss challenges and solutions to the growing demands for mental health and substance use disorder services in New Jersey.

NJHA welcomed speakers including Gov. Chris Christie, former Congressman Patrick J. Kennedy, Dr. Drew Pinsky, Bob Forrest, Donald Parker and Dr. Mark Rosenberg. Each speaker brought a different perspective to issues ranging from the ongoing opioid epidemic to eliminating the stigma of mental health and substance use issues.

“The New Jersey Hospital Association plays an essential role in bringing together all experts best-equipped to combat the disease of addiction and develop innovative strategies that tackle issues such as access to care, parity, and treatment,” said Gov. Christie, chair of the White House commission on opioid addiction. “We have made great strides for our most vulnerable citizens by increasing the number of beds for those with both mental illness and substance use issues, limiting access to prescription drugs, instantly pairing recovery coaches with overdose victims, getting people into recovery instead of jail through drug courts and making life-saving Narcan widely available.”

“Now, with my new national role on the Presidential Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis, I look forward to working with the Association to develop policy and practices to conquer America’s opioid crisis,” Christie added.

"I'm honored to be among these distinguished speakers discussing the opioid crisis that is affecting not just the great state of New Jersey but our entire country,” said Pinsky, a board-certified internist and addiction medicine specialist, also known as TV’s Dr. Drew. “I am delighted to have a thought-provoking dialogue with leaders in clinical care in an effort to bring about change at the state and national level."

The summit included presentations of innovative models embraced by N.J. healthcare providers to help combat addiction.

 “The Mental Health Summit is an exceptional model for healthcare providers to gain valuable insights into the opioid epidemic. We are excited to share our experiences with our innovative Alternatives to Opiates (ALTO) program now in its second year of operation at St. Joseph’s Regional Medical Center,” said Rosenberg, chairman of emergency medicine and population health at St. Joseph’s Healthcare System, based in Paterson, N.J. “Through dynamic environments like the Summit, healthcare leaders, caregivers and other attendees will have the opportunity to learn and share, network and build relationships, and garner proven best practices and actionable advice from the frontlines in the fight against overdose and addiction.”

The connection between brain health and substance use disorder was also a prominent topic, with Parker, president and CEO of Belle Mead, N.J.-based Carrier Clinic, focusing on critical elements and challenges of its new program, “Journey to the Bottom of the Brain Stem.”

“In the intersection between brain science and the practice of compassion, we are finding new, exciting and effective ways to treat psychiatric and addiction disorders,” said Parker.

That parity – recognizing that physical health and brain health must receive equal attention, access to care and insurance coverage – was an important them of the day. As founder of the Kennedy Forum and co-founder of One Mind and Advocates for Opioid Recovery, Kennedy is a leading voice for mental health and addiction recovery. “We must treat illnesses of the brain the same as illnesses of the body, and ensure that anyone with these conditions is able to access evidence-based treatment,” Kennedy said. “I’m honored to join NJHA for this important conversation around ways to work together to end this epidemic.”

Nearly 200 members of the New Jersey healthcare community were present for the all-day summit, representing government, community providers, hospitals and health systems and post-acute providers. The size and scope of the Annual Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder Summit has grown with each year. The program, put on by the Health Research and Educational Trust of New Jersey, a part of NJHA, was made possible with support from the National Assessment Foundation and the United Health Foundation.