The New Jersey Department of Health (DOH) was awarded more than $2.3 million to enhance primary, behavioral and mental health care for children and adolescents through telehealth consultation and new education programs.
“Creating new, innovative ways for New Jersey’s children and teens to better access behavioral and mental healthcare is a vital step in ensuring they receive the best possible care,” said First Lady Tammy Murphy. “Expanding integrated treatment options with telehealth will alleviate some of the logistical challenges associated with receiving care and encourage those who are not receiving treatment to seek help.”
The federal Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) awarded DOH $445,000 for five years — a total of $2,225,000. The Nicholson Foundation is supporting this initiative with $109,000.
NJBIA has been a proponent of increased use of telemedicine in part because of its ability to lower healthcare costs.
“An integrated approach to pediatric mental health care ensures New Jersey’s most vulnerable residents receive the best treatment they deserve in a coordinated way,” Health Commissioner Dr. Shereef Elnahal said. “The new telehealth component will enable families better access to more convenient health care.”
Nearly 20 percent of U.S. children have a mental, emotional or behavioral disorder such as anxiety, depression, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, conduct disorder or Tourette syndrome, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Telemedicine uses phone, video conferencing and internet technology to provide virtual health care. For families of children who cannot otherwise reach a mental health provider, telehealth can connect parents and children to the help they need.
The “New Jersey Family-Centered Mental Health Access Program” will add telehealth services to the existing Pediatric Psychiatry Collaborative (PPC), a network of nine regional hospital-based “hubs” that screen, identify and care for children with mental health concerns. The PPC — funded by the New Jersey Department of Children and Families (DCF) — is organized by Hackensack Meridian Health and Cooper University Hospital. The program is available to children up to age 18 and requires the child’s primary care provider to offer mental and behavioral health screenings, including for substance use, at each child’s well visit. Primary care physicians refer patients to their regional hub for mental/behavioral health services, including substance use.
“Mental illness and addiction often correlate with health risk behaviors such as tobacco use and physical inactivity, which lead to other chronic illnesses such as hypertension and heart disease,” Commissioner Elnahal said. “A child who is diagnosed and treated early will be on a better path toward a healthier lifestyle.”
The PPC is under the leadership of Dr. Steven Kairys, chairman of pediatrics, and Dr. Ramon Solhkhah, chair of psychiatry, both at Jersey Shore University Medical Center. They have led the implementation and growth of the PPC over the past five years. The hubs are located at Jersey Shore University Medical Center, St. Peter’s Family Health Center, Hackensack University Medical Center, Palisades Medical Center, Cooper University Medical Center, Cooper Primary Care at Pennsville, Newton Medical Center, Goryeb Children’s Hospital and Rutgers University Behavioral Health Care.
“We welcome DOH’s telehealth initiative for pediatric mental health because so many families’ work or school obligations and transportation difficulties present care-obstacles that limit treatment opportunities,” DCF Commissioner Christine Norbut Beyer said. “This partnership will leverage technology to ease the challenges so many families experience with accessing, planning and attending appointments for mental health services, by serving them at home on their schedule. It will go a long way towards keeping NJ families safe, healthy and connected.”
The $2.3 million will provide technical assistance and training to 1,800 primary care providers on screening, early identification, diagnosis, referral and treatment of children and adolescents with mental and behavioral health disorders using telehealth. The funds will also go toward provider recruitment and enrollment in the network, training and technical assistance to hubs and participating providers, and the creation of an online referral database and virtual communications.
The New Jersey Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics is a key partner on the grant, leading recruitment efforts for pediatricians to register with the PPC and providing quality improvement education and implementation by linking community services with medical homes to integrate patient care.
“Having an integrated prevention system makes care accessible to at-risk youth and is an essential compliment to the New Jersey Children’s System of Care,” Dr. Solhkhah said. “Our integrated approach ensures pediatricians have access to a child psychiatrist in real time – while a child is actually in their office – to get assistance with a diagnosis, recommendations, medication management and a treatment plan immediately.”
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