The Good Care Collaborative (GCC) met in Paramus, New Jersey, on Friday, March 4, for a site visit to CarePlus New Jersey. They are a leading provider of integrated primary and behavioral health and operate the state’s first Behavioral Health Home. In 2016, the GCC is focused on building educational awareness of the role of behavioral health on physical health and specifically highlighting the impact of integrated care. Good Care site visits are an opportunity to celebrate some of the the state’s best examples of high quality, patient-centered, integrated, and efficient care.

CarePlus New Jersey offers combined primary care and behavioral health, as well as job training, housing and wellness programs, to its 3,500 currently enrolled patients. As Valerie Mielke, Assistant Commissioner for the New Jersey Division of Mental Health and Addiction Services, noted in her keynote address, integrated care is important because patients’ lives are at stake: patients with behavioral health and/or substance abuse disorders are more likely to die prematurely from untreated chronic conditions.

Joe Masciandaro, CEO of CarePlus New Jersey, compared the holistic CarePlus model to a good lasagna. “If you’re making a lasagna, and you serve all the ingredients separately…it doesn’t taste like a lasagna,” he told a packed room of New Jersey providers, policy experts, and consumer advocates. Kathy Bianco, VP of Clinical Services at CarePlus, said that a core principle of their model is bidirectional access, or the “no wrong door” principle, allowing patients to access primary health care through contact with a mental health professional and vice versa.

CarePlus has been highly successful in helping patients to improve their health. Within one year, they saw an 82% reduction in ER visits and significantly improved cardiovascular health among patients in the Behavioral Health Home, with over 70% of patients able to lower their cholesterol to healthy levels. These improvements are made possible through strong patient buy-in: 100% of Behavioral Health Home patients participate in wellness programs, including over 75% participation in smoking cessation and exercise programs, compared with about 20% participation in such programs nationally.

At a panel of CarePlus providers, Kevin, a CarePlus patient, told the audience that he had been in and out of institutions for much of his life, but that CarePlus programs “grabbed a hold” of him. Now he is working and living independently. As his proud father said from his seat in the audience, “CarePlus works.”

The event also featured a panel of state legislators, including Assemblyman Gary Schaer, Assemblyman Joseph Lagana, and a representative from the office of State Senator Robert Gordon. The legislators acknowledged the licensing barriers that make replicating the CarePlus model statewide so difficult — CarePlus is only able to offer their integrated care model because they operate under five separate licenses — and promised to examine the rules and regulations that need to be changed in order to streamline care.

“We get our great ideas from people on the front lines,” said Assemblyman Lagana, encouraging the stakeholders in the room to discuss challenges and potential solutions with him and his staff.

Continuing its focus on the future of behavioral health in New Jersey, the GCC will host its second annual conference in Trenton on Tuesday, May 10th. The conference will highlight challenges and best practices in improving and integrating mental health and addiction services in the state. To learn more, subscribe to the Good Care Collaborative mailing list or register for the conference.

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