New Jersey Youth Get Rapid Access To Mental Health Services
Children and adolescents from low-income households who need mental health care in New Jersey often face long delays for treatment. Now, a new program by a behavioral health organization is helping youth get the help they need fast.
The Rapid Access Program, launched by the Association for the Advancement of Mental Health (AAMH) with a grant from Bristol-Myers Squibb, provides fast-track evaluations and referrals that are making a difference in the lives of people like that of a young teenage girl who was helped through the Rapid Access Program.
This girl, whose identity is withheld for privacy reasons, suffered years of abuse in her native country before she and her mother were granted asylum in the United States. Making a fresh start was difficult, however, as she struggled with her emotions, acting out towards others, clashing with her mother and having difficulties in school.
Youth like this girl, lacking financial resources and referred for mental health counseling by school counselors, family doctors or social service agencies, typically face delays of weeks or even months before they can begin treatment.
The AAMH, however, had recently instituted its Rapid Access Program, whereby individuals ages 5-21 referred for mental health treatment are evaluated by a social worker within three days of a treatment request and, if needed, start seeing a psychiatrist within seven days of the social worker’s evaluation.
As the girl quickly began treatment and was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder stemming from the abuse she had suffered. AAMH counselors helped her explore her past trauma and begin healing. They also worked with her mother, so that the two could better communicate and resolve conflict. This timely intervention has given the girl hope for a better future. She made the honor roll in her school and has dreams of going on to college to study medicine.
Vince Haba, executive director of AAMH, said the girl’s story is just one of many. The Rapid Access Program was launched in 2008 with a $68,887 start-up grant from Bristol-Myers Squibb that helped support the efforts of a social worker and care by board-certified child psychiatrists.
Since then, the program has served 145 youth and their families, and become largely self-sustaining through client Medicaid reimbursements.
“This fast-track care is really making a difference in the lives of area youths who previously faced waiting lists of two months or more for mental health services,” said Haba, whose organization serves clients in Mercer, Middlesex and Burlington counties in New Jersey, and Bucks County, Pennsylvania. “For children and adolescents referred for mental health care, every moment counts. Research shows that, the longer the wait for treatment, the less effective treatment becomes. The Rapid Access Program reduces wait times dramatically and offers a cost-effective model for providing timely mental health treatment for children of low-income families.”
“Bristol-Myers Squibb is committed to helping reduce health disparities around the world, including in the communities where our employees live and work,” said Sharon Henry, M.D., vice president, Global Medical Affairs and Health Outcomes. “The Rapid Access Program is one of many mental health initiatives we support that are helping eliminate barriers to care to support people in leading healthier, more fulfilling lives.”
Mental health problems among today’s youth are increasingly well-documented. The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services estimates that mental health problems affect one in five young people at any given time. Access to mental health services, however, is largely a tale of two systems: the privately funded system of health insurance and private payers, and the resource-limited publicly funded system.
Individuals covered by health insurance and those whose families pay directly for their care have many options for mental health services and can get an appointment with a professional within a few days, Mr. Haba said. That quick evaluation is vital: 80 percent of youth who receive prompt evaluations follow through with a course of treatment.
The publicly funded system, in contrast, is characterized by long waiting lists for treatment. Wait times of eight weeks are typical in Mercer County and only 30 percent of youths who face such delays follow through with a course of treatment, Mr. Haba said.
Services provided through the Rapid Access Program include a psychosocial evaluation and assessment; individual, group and family psychotherapy and counseling; substance abuse treatment; psychiatric evaluation and assessment; psychopharmacological management; case management services; and emergency appointments.
More information about the Rapid Access Program is available by calling the AAMH at (609) 452-2088.