This combination of the state’s largest integrated health care network and 108-year-old addiction and recovery center Carrier Clinic is expected to enhance behavioral health services in New Jersey — a state where 3,000 people are expected to be lost to drug overdoses this year as a result of the opioid crisis.
“Right now the system is very fragmented. I’d even call it broken,” said Robert Garrett, co-CEO of Hackensack Meridian Health. “One of the top priorities of the merger is to really have less-fragmented patient care. We need to integrate a lot more. We need to expand the inpatient side, but we also need to think about coordinating and centralizing it.”
“I think having an organization like the Carrier Clinic to help us coordinate better and make it less fragmented was very attractive to us,” he added.
The two entities signed a letter of intent in March to partner on various ways to enhance behavioral health. After five months of due diligence, they made the decision to merge.
“As we learned more about the Carrier Clinic after filing the initial letter of intent, we were more convinced that a full merger was really the way to be a leader in mental health and to integrate the Carrier Clinic in the whole behavioral health strategy for Hackensack Meridian Health,” Garrett said.
As a result of the merger, the entities plan to open a new treatment center next year in North Jersey. They also plan on creating a system of 24-hour access to outpatient, inpatient and urgent care services for the mental health and addiction needs of children and adults.
These services will be available in various locations throughout Hackensack Meridian Health’s network of 16 hospitals, 450-plus patient care locations and physician offices in eight counties. The entities will also continue to focus on developing new technology, such as facial recognition capabilities for telemedicine services that pick up on indicators of health problems imperceptible to the human eye.
During the due diligence process, the two entities exchanged more than 1 million documents, Garrett said. Hackensack Meridian Health engaged an outside consultant to evaluate Carrier Clinic and other potential partners to strengthen its behavioral health reach. The consultant determined Carrier Clinic’s offerings made it the best partner for what Hackensack Meridian Health was looking to accomplish.
“[The due diligence process] was very thorough. Each side took a deep dive and looked at each other from a clinical perspective, an operational perspective and a financial perspective,” Garrett said.
Important, too, was the compatibility of the companies’ cultures.
“I was engaged to work on some joint projects [with Hackensack Meridian Health]. For me, that was an acid test,” said Donald Parker, CEO of Carrier Clinic. “We were working on very challenging projects and we work well together. The culture felt very accommodating, capable, and the staff that I was working with was smooth. It was probably one of the easiest transitions I’ve had in working with a team I wasn’t familiar with.”
“Strategically it was a great match, which we knew from the outset, but a lot of mergers don’t work because the cultures aren’t aligned,” Garrett added.
Both leaders said they believe patients and their families will gain much from the new combination.
“There is a sheer overwhelming demand for and underwhelming supply of services throughout the state,” Parker said. “Patients who are seeking behavioral health services are often bewildered. We don’t have a system allowing them to get screened and moved to service in an expeditious manner. This will give our patients unprecedented access to care. We expect it’ll up both of our games.”
“Why should someone who has an urgent care type of need have to come to an inpatient facility, a hospital emergency department where they have to fight the battle of overcrowding? [And] too many of our residents have to travel long distances to get quality care. We’re committed to providing that level of care here in New Jersey,” he said.
Additionally, Garrett expects the merger will make behavioral health a key part of the core curriculum of the Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine at Seton Hall University. The network started two new psychiatry residency programs in July, and a child psychiatry fellowship program is expected to begin in 2020.
“One of our board members when we were getting to the point of making the final approval for our plan said, ‘If the future of behavioral health is integrating with health care, then doing it with a world-class organization [like Hackensack Meridian Health] couldn’t be better.’ I felt blessed, frankly,” Parker said.