New Jersey | 50 states of population health

DENNIS PULLIN. President and CEO of Virtua Health (Marlton, N.J.)

On the top challenge

"One of the most pressing health concerns facing our patients is behavioral health."

On the hospital's response

"Virtua has taken an aggressive approach with the development and growth of several programs to address mental health issues, including those related to the growing opioid crisis. We understand that for hospitals to be accountable and support their local communities most effectively, they must collaborate with trusted providers that can supplement their competencies. About two years ago, Virtua saw a decline in inpatient admissions at one of our acute care hospitals while recognizing a surge in behavioral health needs. These changes led to a campus transformation to better align our services with community needs and create partnerships with local behavioral health providers.

At our transformed Virtua Berlin Campus, we are partnering with Legacy Treatment Services to provide mental health and addiction treatment. Virtua has refocused a unit in this hospital to serve as an around-the-clock assessment and stabilization center. This service provides immediate care for people who require it, eliminating long waits patients often experience. Legacy will also provide outpatient treatment services, an inpatient detoxification unit, and outpatient addiction treatment on the campus.

Another approach Virtua developed to improve access to behavioral health services is a collaborative care model within a number of Virtua Medical Group primary care offices. This program provides access to licensed clinical social workers in primary care practices, eliminating the usual process of referring the patient to a clinician at another location. This model provides a continuum of care to avoid losing important connections with patients in a maze of episodic care.

Many current mental health issues are traced to the rise of the opioid crises in our communities. Virtua has partnered with Oaks Integrated Care to pilot an opioid overdose recovery program for overdose victims in the Virtua Memorial Emergency Department. The goal is quick admission into a treatment program where patients have a greater chance to recover and live a more meaningful life.

Virtua has also developed an essential resource for children with mental health issues. Virtua's Camden and Berlin campuses offer the Children Achieving Success through Therapeutic Life Experiences program, a collaboration between Virtua and The Center for Family Guidance. The services include intensive emotional and behavioral health therapy for school-age children in a classroom setting, allowing them to continue their education while addressing their treatment needs. The CASTLE program provides about 15,000 visits per year in the partial hospitalization program and 5,500 outpatient visits per year, with the goal of transitioning students back to the school environment."

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