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New Jersey Gets $2.3M to Expand Telehealth Programs for Children

New Jersey will be using a five-year, $2.2 million HRSA grant to expand and improve a nine-hospital telehealth network focused on screening and treating children with behavioral and mental health issues.

Source: ThinkStock

By Eric Wicklund

- New Jersey healthcare providers are getting more than $2.3 million to expand telehealth and telemedicine programs to identify and treat children with behavioral and mental health issues.

The state will use a five-year $2.225 million grant from the US Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) and a $109,000 award from the Nicholson Foundation to enhance the Pediatric Psychiatry Collaborative (PPC), a nine-hospital connected care network that screens and treats children with mental health concerns throughout the state.

“An integrated approach to pediatric mental health care ensures New Jersey’s most vulnerable residents receive the best treatment they deserve in a coordinated way,” Health Commissioner Dr. Shereef Elnahal said in a press release. “The new telehealth component will enable families better access to more convenient healthcare.”

“Mental illness and addiction often correlate with health risk behaviors such as tobacco use and physical inactivity, which lead to other chronic illnesses such as hypertension and heart disease,” he added. “A child who is diagnosed and treated early will be on a better path toward a healthier lifestyle.”

The program is one of many across the country using mHealth and telehealth to improve care management and coordination for the estimated 20 percent of American children dealing with mental health issues. Compounding the problem is a shortage of experts: there are only about 8,300 practicing child psychiatrists, many clustered in large metropolitan areas.

Lawmakers in several states have submitted bills seeking to develop telemedicine and telehealth programs in schools that address behavioral health, as well as primary care. Texas, for instance, is looking to expand the Telemedicine Wellness, Intervention, Triage and Referral (TWITR) program, developed in 2012 at Texas Tech University Health Center following the Sandy Hook School massacre.

Funded by the New Jersey Department of Children and Families (DCF) and coordinated by Hackensack Meridian Health and Cooper University Hospital, the PPC consists of nine telemental health hubs - Jersey Shore University Medical Center, St. Peter’s Family Health Center, Hackensack University Medical Center, Palisades Medical Center, Cooper University Medical Center, Cooper Primary Care at Pennsville, Newton Medical Center, Goryeb Children’s Hospital and Rutgers University Behavioral Health Care – through which care is coordinated.

According to officials, the new funding will be used for technical assistance and training roughly 1,800 primary care providers on screening, early identification, diagnosis, referral and treatment of children and adolescents with mental and behavioral health disorders using telehealth. The money will also be used to improve the telemedicine platform and create an online referral database.

“We welcome DOH’s telehealth initiative for pediatric mental health because so many families’ work or school obligations and transportation difficulties present care-obstacles that limit treatment opportunities,” DCF Commissioner Christine Norbut Beyer said in the press release. “This partnership will leverage technology to ease the challenges so many families experience with accessing, planning and attending appointments for mental health services, by serving them at home on their schedule. It will go a long way towards keeping NJ families safe, healthy and connected.” 

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