Apr. 15, 2015: South Jersey Hospitals Launch Collaborative to Improve Access to Behavioral Health Services

Collaborative members include Cooper University Health Care, Inspira Health Network, Kennedy Health, Lourdes Health System, Virtua, the New Jersey Hospital Association and the Camden Coalition of Healthcare Providers

PRINCETON – Five major health systems in southern New Jersey, the New Jersey Hospital Association (NJHA) and the Camden Coalition of Healthcare Providers have launched the South Jersey Behavioral Health Innovation Collaborative (SJBHIC) to evaluate the current behavioral health landscape and provide innovative recommendations on how to improve the system. The year-long project will include engaging key stakeholders, including patients, families and providers in an effort to better identify the challenges they face.

The health systems came together after the 2013 Tri-County Community Health Needs Assessment (Burlington, Camden and Gloucester counties) identified greater access to mental health and substance abuse services as one of the top five health issues facing the region.

To understand the challenges in the current system, the Collaborative will begin gathering data from the five participating hospitals on how patients flow through their network of providers, analyze the data and then apply evidence-based and best practices along with innovative system changes that will better serve individuals with behavioral health conditions.

“Our members are committed to making changes that address the needs of the communities they serve. If it is the intersection of policy that doesn’t make sense, or system issues that challenge the delivery of high quality care, their teams are working on innovative practice changes that will help redefine the behavioral healthcare system as we know it today,” said NJHA’s President and CEO Betsy Ryan.

As part of the Collaborative’s learning process, the five hospital CEOs and their project teams were on hand today to hear James Schuster, MD, MBA, chief medical officer for the Community Care Behavioral Health Organization, discuss his award winning and groundbreaking project, “Optimizing Behavioral Health Incomes by Focusing on Outcomes that Matter Most for Adults with Serious Mental Illness.”

At the heart of this project are 11 community mental health centers of various sizes across Pennsylvania acting as research sites to test two types of wellness interventions: web-based and provider-supported. More than 100 staff members are trained to deliver the models including 78 case managers, 18 peer support specialists (who are or have been patients themselves) and five nurses.

Schuster’s work focuses on the successful integration of primary care and behavioral healthcare and the SJBHIC plans to examine his best practices to see if they can be applied to communities in southern New Jersey.

According to NJHA’s 2013 Acute Care Hospital Behavioral Health Volume Report, well over a half million patients were treated for psychiatric and substance abuse concerns and discharged back into the community. In 2013, 39 percent of the inpatient admissions from southern New Jersey residents had a primary or secondary diagnosis of behavioral health.

Between 2009 and 2013, the number of ED visits by southern New Jersey residents whose primary diagnosis was a behavioral health condition increased by 20 percent, and on average, more than 100 people a day from southern New Jersey come to EDs with behavioral health as their primary concern.

“One hospital and one clinic can’t solve this systemic behavioral health crisis, it operates at the community level. People are not getting the treatment they so desperately need,” said Jeffrey C. Brenner, MD, executive director and medical director of the Camden Coalition of Healthcare Providers.

The Five CEOs of the Participating Hospitals Weigh In

Lourdes Health System’s President and CEO Alexander J. Hatala stated, “Our five hospitals came together and identified through our Community Needs Assessment an opportunity to address a major public health concern. The people we serve – patients and families – need a system of care that promotes early detection and access to community – based services, thus reducing the need for hospitalization.

“The creation and commitment of this Collaborative initiative provides the region’s health systems an opportunity to take the lead in helping resolve a challenging issue for the community,” said Kennedy Health President and CEO Joseph W. Devine. “This important step began with a conversation initiated with my fellow health system CEOs, who are involved in this project. We all want to bring meaningful and sustainable change to the mental healthcare delivery system in southern New Jersey. Kennedy is committed to working with other stakeholders to make a positive impact for those affected by mental illness and addiction. This isn’t an individual problem or a family problem. The problems that exist in the mental health delivery system today affect many people in our communities. Now is the time to address this challenge and implement real solutions.”

“Mental illness robs individuals of both dignity and decades of life expectancy; but, unfortunately, the current system is heavily focused on those times a person is in crisis,” said Adrienne Kirby, PhD, president and CEO of Cooper University Health Care. “Waiting until a crisis is imminent is an ineffective way to treat a chronic health condition. We need a new approach that facilitates more proactive management of mental illness. Cooper is proud to partner with our colleagues to find new opportunities to care for these patients who need our help.” 

“There is an urgent need not only regionally but nationally to address the behavioral health crisis,” said Virtua President and CEO Richard P. Miller. “We encounter a considerable number of patients annually who require mental health services which are not accessible, and this collaboration presents a unique opportunity to address the issue. Mental health issues not only affect patients and their families, but all of society. We are dedicated to working with our healthcare colleagues in the region to find treatment solutions for those who need it,” he said.

“The members of this collaborative believe that we can—and that we must—help create a more effective and compassionate behavioral health system. By working together, we have a unique opportunity to gain a better understanding of the current situation in our region, learn from successful initiatives in other regions, and determine what steps we must take to consistently provide high quality behavioral health services to all who need them,” stated John DiAngelo, president and CEO of Inspira Health Network.