Speaker Coughlin, Conaway & Gopal Highlight Funding to Grow New Jersey’s Pediatric Psychiatric Collaborative

FY23 State Budget Appropriates $12 Million for Program to Expand Integrated Delivery of Youth Mental Health Care

OCEAN TOWNSHIP, NJ - A growing number of young people experience mental health problems, a nationwide behavioral health crisis that is impacting New Jersey’s youth to devastating effect and even more so following the Covid-19 pandemic.

Today, during Teen Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, Assembly Speaker Craig J. Coughlin in partnership with Hackensack Meridian Health held a press conference to highlight $12 million in funding for the New Jersey Pediatric Psychiatric Collaborative (NJPPC), part of the historic Fiscal Year 2023 State Budget signed by Governor Phil Murphy on June 30, 2022.

“Thousands of children and teens across our state are at a breaking point,” said Assembly Speaker Craig J. Coughlin (D-Middlesex). “Thankfully our budget this year builds on investments, across a number of areas, to promote increased access to appropriate mental health services and care. Alongside plans to expand availability of nutritious meals at school and ensure families can meet their most basic needs, expansion of the collaborative puts our hospital systems and doctors on stronger footing to come to the aid of young people struggling with their mental health.”

The NJPPC program trains pediatricians to provide care to lower acuity cases, and connects kids in need of higher-level services with specialized providers and programs. Part of Speaker Coughlin’s priority to address mental health during the 220th legislative session, the State more than doubled its commitment to help expand the program and its reach.

Specifically, the NJPPC program provides access to behavioral health diagnosis and treatment resources, including pediatric telepsychiatry, using pediatricians’ offices as access points, and support services to the pediatrician, including direct consultations with child and adolescent psychiatrists.  “This ensures that children and adolescents are screened, diagnosed, and treated earlier than they would be under standard practice,”  said Ramon Solhkhah, M.D., MBA, FHELA, DFAACAP, Co-Founder and Principal Investigator of the Pediatric Psychiatric Collaborative and Chair of the Department of Psychiatry, Hackensack Meridian Jersey Shore University Medical Center.  “This model of care is particularly important today because New Jersey and, in fact, the nation is experiencing a shortage of child mental health providers.  NJPPC enables pediatricians to diagnose and treat the most common behavioral health disorders in their offices, allowing child psychiatrists and other specialized providers to focus their limited resources on the patients that need them the most.”

Now in its eighth year, the NJPPC program comprises over 652 pediatric clinicians. These participating pediatric primary care clinicians have screened over 212,000 patients for mental and behavioral health issues, and 18,050 patients have received mental health consultation services via the NJPPC Hubs, to date.

“Widening mental health care treatment avenues for our young people has been a focus of mine since before I became Chair of the Education Committee, and continues to be a top priority. Too many of our youth who struggle with mental illness feel they have nowhere to turn,” said Senator Vin Gopal (D-Monmouth), Chair of the Senate Education Committee. “Opening the door to treat behavioral conditions such as depression and anxiety through more collaborative care can help us prevent teen suicide, and help those in crisis receive treatment they need on a more persistent, and cost-saving basis. I want to thank Governor Murphy, Speaker Coughlin and Assembly Chair Conaway again for their continued efforts to secure vital funding in this year’s budget so that we may continue to lend support on this fight that is ongoing in so many families across our state.”  

“With anxiety and depression among children and teens on the rise, it’s more important than ever to ensure mental health services are readily available for young people who may be struggling,” said Assemblyman Herb Conaway (D-Burlington), Chair of the Assembly Health Committee. “Streamlining access to quality, affordable mental health services with strategic investments into the New Jersey Pediatric Psychiatric Collaborative will enable medical professionals to meet the needs of New Jersey’s children and adolescents.”

“According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 1 in 6 youth throughout the country experience mental health issues each year, yet far too many struggle to find appropriate treatment,” said Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt (D-Camden, Burlington), Chair of the Assembly Education Committee. “The Child Collaborative Mental Health Care program serves as an important resource for pediatricians across the state, supporting them in addressing mental health concerns and providing access to kids that otherwise would not have these services. I am proud to support this innovative and critical program that will help children get the care they need, when they need it.”

"We know that the only way to tackle this youth mental health crisis is through collaboration with strong partners - government, other health care partners and community stakeholders," said Robert C. Garrett, FACHE, CEO of Hackensack Meridian Health. “Together, we are making a difference."

New Jersey has taken several steps to improve access to behavioral health care over the years: expanding mental health early intervention programs, issuing licenses for additional treatment beds, promoting measures to improve access to substance use disorder treatment and support services, and working to expand readily available access to behavioral health treatment providers. Earlier this month, the state also highlighted the launch of the nationwide 988-crisis hotline.