Hackensack Meridian Health Goes Big on Behavioral Health, Care Collaboration

Hackensack Meridian Health is making behavior health care its “big focus” of 2020, according to CEO Robert Garrett. 

Garrett shared his priorities for the year ahead Wednesday during a podcast interview with Bloomberg Businessweek

“This year, the big focus is going to be on behavioral health because it’s posing a huge problem from a health perspective, but it’s also a huge problem from an economic perspective,” Garrett said. “We’re going to tackle it.”


Edison, New Jersey-based Hackensack Meridian bills itself as the largest and most comprehensive health network in the state of New Jersey. It has 17 hospitals and 500 patient care locations across the state, which include a behavioral health hospital and a behavioral health urgent care center, which opened late last year. 

In 2020, Hackensack Meridian aims to break down barriers and improve access to behavioral health services, Garrett said. 

“We’re going to focus on it and talk about how collaboration is really the route to go, meaning [with] the private sector, … government and community agencies,” Garrett said.


Hackensack Meridian has already leaned into some of those collaborative efforts.

Take the Pediatric Psychiatry Collaborative Program (PPC), which the health network is leading, for example. The program, which is federally and state funded, has allowed multiple health systems to work together to provide improved preventative behavioral care for children. 

As a result of the collaborative, about 165,000 children have been screened for behavioral health issues through wellness visits, Garrett said. Of those, about 10,000 have been referred for follow up treatment.

“This early intervention really can make a difference,” the CEO said.

He also lauded his organization’s new behavioral health urgent care center, which opened in Neptune, New Jersey, last fall. It provides a place for patients to come for a “check up from the neck up,” according to a September 2019 press release announcing the center’s opening.

“So many people with mental illnesses end up in crowded and complex emergency departments,” Garrett said, explaining the impetus for the new center. “They have to compete with people who have had heart attacks, strokes [or who have] been in motor vehicle accidents.”

The new facility eliminates that competition.

“Patients literally within minutes can come and be seen by a behavioral health specialist,” Garrett said. “If they need a psychiatric consultation, they can get a psychiatrist through telehealth, … then they get referred on for treatment.”

Finally, Garrett praised innovative reimbursement models that encourage collaborative care — and stressed the need for more incentives going forward.

One example is Medicare’s Collaborative Care Model, which pays providers a higher reimbursement rate for integrating behavioral health professionals into medical care settings.  

“[That] is a good incentive, and it’s focusing the medical community on preventing behavioral health issues as opposed to treating them down the road,” Garrett said. “There’s a lot more like that that could be done and should be done, in my view.”

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