Nicholson Foundation wants behavioral health services integrated with primary care

 AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center in Atlantic City, New Jersey. (Photo via Wikimedia/Creative Commons. Uploaded by Coasterghost)

AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center in Atlantic City, New Jersey. (Photo via Wikimedia/Creative Commons. Uploaded by Coasterghost)

A few healthcare providers in New Jersey will improve the integration of behavioral and physical health at the doctor’s office — with the help of an infusion of grant money.

Atlantic City has seen some tough times economically in recent years and, when money is tight, people’s mental health can take a hit.

“As people get squeezed, the demand is even greater,” said Sandy Festa, an administrative director at AtlantiCare.  She’s excited to ramp up behavioral health services at their Special Care Center — a specialty health clinic for people with chronic illness- thanks to a grant from the Nicholson Foundation. They’ve already started this process, and she’s excited to expand it.

“A patient once said to me, when I come to your office for care…no one knows whether I’m going there because my back hurts, or my heart is broken,” she said.

The Foundation awarded $225,000 to six organizations to integrate behavioral and physical health.

At the Special Care Center, people coming in for heart problems can also get a therapy session– and those coming in for therapy can get their blood pressure taken.

“We know from our experience running the special care center for the last ten years — that our patients do better when we give them the care right there, in the same office, instead of having them traverse referrals and calling another place and making another appointment or going to another city,” said Festa.

Another provider who won the grant — Kennedy Health – will be integrating services at their Family Health Center in Somerdale, New Jersey. Amanda Kimmel is Vice President of Population Health there.

She says patients on medicaid in Camden County with mental health problems have traditionally had very few options.

“They’re dealing with long wait times – in terms of finding a facility that will accept medicaid – and because of this these patients either receive no behavioral health care – or they’ll wait until they’re in crisis and they’ll seek emergency treatment at a hospital,” she said.

Kimmel said Kennedy has already tried this out at a few primary care offices — to good results.

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