As today’s headlines vividly demonstrate, the issues of mental and behavioral health and addiction have become a national crisis. And with each headline there is increasing awareness that our families and society are being touched by these conditions in ways we’re only beginning to understand. In response, Hackensack Meridian Health is transforming its organization, adding several innovations that will integrate more modern addiction services into the traditional care model.

“This is really a watershed moment for behavioral health, mental health, and addiction care across the nation,” noted Don Parker, president of Carrier Clinic, which became part of the Hackensack Meridian Health network on January 1. “It is unfortunate, but we are reading about suicides, homicides, and drug overdoses as a daily occurrence. These issues are finally being more openly discussed, and I could not be prouder to lead our efforts to integrate mental and behavioral health into all aspects of patient care. This includes a commitment to making care more accessible and closer to home, and in ways that are more convenient.”

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Parker, who is now in charge of behavioral health and integrative medicine for the network, served as CEO of Carrier Clinic, reshaping behavioral health care and addiction services at the Belle Mead institution. Carrier, which first opened its doors in 1910, offers services ranging from acute inpatient recovery and therapeutic care to an on-site school. While it is now the 17th hospital in the Hackensack Meridian network, it is the network’s first acute behavioral health hospital, with reputation for providing care and hope for those most at risk.

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“We will be opening our first Urgent Care location with behavioral health services in the spring,” Parker continued. “This concept is long overdue, and will provide access to care locally, with extended hours to meet the needs of individuals and families. We are also working on some truly revolutionary technologies and approaches to advance telepsychiatry, so people can have a ‘virtual visit’ and consultation from wherever they might be.”

Carrier Clinic’s expertise will be the cornerstone for these enhanced and coordinated services throughout Hackensack Meridian Health, which is investing in technologies that will bring expertise and treatment of mental and behavioral health issues into the offices of local primary care physicians.

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As part of removing the stigma around seeking care and integrating knowledge and discussion into traditional care encounters of every kind from routine office visits to the treatment of complex or chronic diseases and conditions Hackensack Meridian will be developing collaborative approaches to work with its network of more than 6,500 physicians across a nine county area.
“It is absolutely critical that we partner with physicians and clinicians of every kind from general practitioners to specialists and surgeons to join us in being advocates and facilitate what may be difficult conversations,” Parker added. “Mental, behavioral health, and addiction are medical conditions, really no different than cancer or heart disease, and society is realizing that.”

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In addition to blazing a trail in providing more care in more ways that are closer to home, Hackensack Meridian is taking on a problem as significant as the epidemic itself: the shortage of mental and behavioral health providers, both in New Jersey and nationally. Hackensack Meridian Health recently opened the first private medical school in New Jersey to include a division of psychiatry, and welcomed its inaugural class. When Hackensack University Health Network first merged with Meridian Health in 2016, the leadership team realized it was critical to address the shortage of physicians and medical professionals directly. That led to the founding of the medical school to train the practitioners of tomorrow and cultivate the caregivers who could be trained and immersed in an integrated care model.

In addition to overseeing behavioral health and addiction services for the network, Parker will also be leading integrative health and medicine e orts, which he sees as going hand in hand with the network’s commitment to behavioral health, mental health, and addiction care.

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“From managing stress and anxiety to treating more complex conditions, there are many aspects of integrative health that people can incorporate into their daily lives to create and maintain a sense of well-being,” he concluded. “Nutrition counseling, health coaches, acupuncture, aromatherapy, and things like meditation all used to be on the fringe, and were often provided in exclusive settings. We will now incorporate these services and approaches as part of our medical and clinical approaches. There is undeniable synergy between mental and physical health and wellness.”

Hackensack Meridian Health
844.464.9355 / hackensackmeridianhealth.org