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Middlesex County, Hackensack Meridian Health changing the narrative on behavioral health care services

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EDISON – Endless possibilities await as Middlesex County and Hackensack Meridian Health announced their partnership to advance care at the George J. Otlowski Senior Center for Mental Health in Perth Amboy.

“I think what we will see at end of day is a continuum of care serving the needs of folks in Middlesex County, which will be second to none,” Joseph Miller, vice president for Behavioral Health Care Transformation Services for Hackensack Meridian Health.

Miller joined Robert C. Garrett, CEO of Hackensack Meridian Health, Middlesex County Freeholder Director Ronald G. Rios, County Administrator John Pulomena and other county and Hackensack Meridian Health officials to announce what officials call an “important” partnership at Hackensack Meridian Health’s building on Thornall Street in Edison on Oct. 28.

Through the partnership, Hackensack Meridian Health will be managing the George J. Otlowski Senior Center with the county to provide more coordinated care and enhanced services, part of the network’s comprehensive strategy to improve behavioral health care throughout New Jersey.

The Otlowski Center, which was opened in 1970, is a comprehensive community mental health center sponsored by the Middlesex County Board of Chosen Freeholders. The center has an Outpatient Department, Partial Care Program and Medical Unit, and offers treatment for a wide range of emotional disorders. The center serves Middlesex County residents ages five and up. The staff is comprised of experienced mental health professionals, including social workers, psychologists, professional counselors, rehabilitation counselors, psychiatrists and nurses.

“It’s not a moment too soon to think about the statistics,” Garrett said. “One in five Americans are diagnosed with a mental health illness and/or addiction disorder. In New Jersey alone last year, 3,100 of our friends, our neighbors and our family members passed away because of overdoses.”

Garrett said the time to act is now on mental health noting for a third year in a row, the life expectancy has actually gone down in the nation because of the opioid epidemic and suicide.

“We certainly want to change the narrative when it comes to delivering behavioral health care services,” he said. “As a result of the partnership, our goals are quite simple. Remove the stigma that exists for people who have mental illness and addiction disorders once and for all. We want them to be treated equal … with the dignity and respect that cancer patients are treated and for patients with heart disease, diabetes or any other chronic ailment. [Another goal is to] increase access care and we are well on our way.”

In January, Hackensack Meridian Health merged with Carrier Clinic, a leading behavioral health provider to better serve patients with mental illness and addiction diagnoses. The merger has resulted in the opening of New Jersey’s first behavioral health care urgent center in Neptune, which is providing options beyond the emergency room for patients. The network plans to replicate the model statewide.

Additionally, the network is planning to open The Retreat at Ramapo Valley, a destination, comprehensive addiction treatment center in Mahwah New Jersey this winter.

The affiliation will also increase services to veterans in the area by enrolling participants in TriCare, which provides insurance to members of the military. It will also enhance the availability of substance use disorder treatment and identify any gaps in treatment across the region and provide those needed services, Garrett said.

Rios said the new partnership means better care for county residents.

“[We] recognize in order to give our residents the best health care, we need to form strong partnerships with those who best understand the rapidly changing health care landscape,” he said.

Rios said they chose Hackensack Meridian Health because of their “experience, expertise and their commitment.”

“We can review the counties overall commitment and improve the quality of life for all residents, it is only fitting that this goal focus is not only on their health, but the often overlooked importance of mental emotional health,” he said.

Rios said their partnership will also be able to focus on veterans.

“Hackensack Meridian Health has committed to ensuring the Otlowski Center will be better positioned to serve those members of our community that bravely served our country,” he said. “When this partnership was being developed, we spoke about ensuring our veterans to have access to services provided at the center. To have that conversation become a reality is truly a blessing and testament to the strong collaboration this agreement has and will continue to create.”

Miller added Hackensack Meridian Health brings academics with two residency programs in psychiatry, fellowship programs in children and addiction psychiatry and research.

Hackensack Meridian Health comprises of 17 hospitals from Bergen to Ocean counties and has more than 35,000 team members and 7,000 physicians.

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