Behavioral health expertise enhances care interventions

Dr. Karen Rentas of Rutgers UBHC and LSW Laura Buckley present their work at the Camden Coalition
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photo: Karen Rentas, Ph. D. and Laura Buckley, LSW

Findings from first year of Coalition partnership with Rutgers UBHC presented

In 2014, the Coalition’s care management team identified a challenging subset of patients participating in the Coalition’s interventions. The team theorized that these patients’ medical issues were compounded by behavioral health problems, resulting in a lower success rate in reducing their hospitalizations than in patients with only medical needs. In order to test this theory, they had to add expertise in behavioral health to the multi-disciplinary team.

The Coalition partnered with Rutgers University Behavioral Health Care (Rutgers UBHC) in a two-year consulting agreement. Clinical psychologist Karen Rentas, Ph.D., of Rutgers UBHC joined the Camden Coalition as a behavioral consultant to support the Coalition’s social work team — comprised of a social work manager, social work coordinator, housing specialist and hospital social worker, and led by Laura Buckley, LSW.

The social work team implemented a new approach, serving as consultants to front-line care teams and providing expertise for patients with both behavioral and social needs. The first year of collaboration between Rutgers UBHC and Camden Coalition demonstrated the significant impact of adding behavioral health expertise to a care management team.

Over the year, Rentas and other UBHC resources provided both direct patient care to help patients with behavioral, social, and environmental needs, and conducted trainings to expand staff knowledge and understanding of behavioral health issues.

At the patient level, Rentas provided direct care and uncovered discrepancies in mental health and substance use diagnoses in many patients. She assessed patients who presented symptoms of  behavioral health needs,  helping to guide the approach of the care teams and linking patients to appropriate treatment.

Care team members were trained on a wide variety of mental, social, and substance issues, giving them new tools for working effectively with very challenging patients. “I think [the partnership with Rutgers UBHC] has been very positive,” said one team member. “It has reduced the stress levels of the team because [Dr. Rentas is] a readily accessible resource and useful for strategizing when we run into walls with complex behavioral patients.” Rentas has trained staff around crisis and violence prevention, engagement techniques, and enhancing suicide protocol for patients.

Adding behavioral health counseling where needed kept many patients from seeking care in hospital settings for non-medical issues. “Our patient was going into the emergency room all the time because of anxiety,” said one team member. “It took a while, but as time progressed we attempted to set her up with a counselor. She began to form a relationship with Dr. Rentas, which also strengthened our relationship with [the patient]. She became more open to sharing her feelings with us. [Rentas] taught her coping mechanisms and reinforced the coping mechanisms she already had, which helped her stay out of the hospital.”

In the second year of the project, Rentas and Buckley will continue working with patients and coaching staff on behavioral health topics. As more data is collected on patients’ needs, they will develop more accurate and useful patient records to better assess and quantify the relationship between behavioral health and hospital readmissions.

Findings from the first year of the program were presented at Camden Coalition by Rentas and Buckley, with Rutgers UBHC CEO, Christopher Kosseff, COO Rosemarie Rosati and Rena Gitliz in attendance.

Other innovative behavioral health efforts supported by the Coalition include the Southern New Jersey Behavioral Health Innovation Collaborative.



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