MONMOUTH COUNTY, NJ – On Friday, September 20th, at 11am, over 100 people gathered to celebrate the launch and official ribbon cutting for the first Hackensack Meridian Health (HMH) medically integrated urgent care center to include behavioral health.  The weather was perfect for the outside event held in a tented area in front of the new center, located at 2040 Route 33 in Neptune City, NJ.

Hackensack Meridian Urgent Care with Behavioral Health, the first in the nation of its type, is a major part of a comprehensive strategy to improve access and better coordinate care and treatment for people struggling with mental health issues and addiction. The facts show that one out of five Americans suffer with mental illness, the nation's suicide rates are at an epidemic number, and over 3000 NJ residents died as a result of opioid overdoses last year. Based on those statistics, HMH identified a true immediate need for urgent behavioral health care. After a national search for a partner, HMH chose Carrier Clinic, a proven leader in mental illness and addiction treatment with over 100 years of history in the state of NJ. 

HMH CEO Robert C. Garrett began his speech by thanking all of the local, county and state officials who support the initiatives of Hackensack Meridian Health. Garrett then began to speak about the details and the mission of integrating behavioral health into the urgent care model. “Today we offer a real solution to a significant problem facing the healthcare system... This first-of-a-kind concept will help us transform behavioral health care in New Jersey and beyond,” said Garrett. “It is so important that we give patients options for high-quality, convenient and affordable health care outside the walls of hospitals....We chose Carrier Clinic to partner with because they are so well respected in the communities they serve, and among their clinicians....’’

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VIDEO: The CEO of Hackensack Meridian Health, Robert C. Garrett gives opening remarks and overview of new urgent care behavioral health initiative:


Donald J. Parker, LCSW, president of Hackensack Meridian Health Carrier Clinic and Behavioral Health Care Transformation Services, commented, "As soon as I started talking to Bob about this I knew that HMH had the DNA to make this an ordinary but extraordinary way...and there is not a CEO in the country that promotes it like Bob Garrett does..." The HMH Urgent Care with Behavioral Health pamphlet states, "When your psychiatrist or psychologist is not available, treatment options listed for behavioral health are: depression, anxiety, children's behavioral issues, bullying, stress, and mood disorders. 

VIDEO: Hear an excerpt from Don Parker's speech:  

According to Hackensack Meridian Health, patients who use this new urgent care center will have access to a behavioral health team including mental health technicians, licensed clinical social workers, advance practice nurses and, if required, a psychiatrist via innovative telemedicine technology.

Donald J. Parker, LCSW, president of Hackensack Meridian Health Carrier Clinic and Behavioral Health Care Transformation Services, commented to TAPinto, “Adding psychology to urgent care services allows us to treat patients with behavioral health issues in a non-stigmatizing and non-threatening manner as is possible. It is difficult for a general practitioner to have the time and the ability to handle psychological issues when a patient walks through their door. We need equal levels of those skills in urgent care and this concept does just that, addressing physical and psychological health challenges on par with each other."

TAPinto spoke with HMH Foundation Board Member Phil Perricone there to attend the opening. He and his wife Marilyn lost their son Chris to alcohol addiction on Valentine's Day, 2016. The Christopher Center for Mental Health Awareness, at Jersey Shore Medical Center, was established in his memory.  Perricone commented, "I think there's a real need for this type of center. We have so many people suffering with depression, so may suffering with addiction. Sometimes they don't know where to begin to go to help themselves. This type of center is easy to access and will help so many that are struggling. It may even help save the life of someone like our son Chris who wanted to recover." 

Former Rhode Island Congressional Representative, Patrick Kennedy, was present as keynote speaker for the event. He joined Hackensack Meridian officials, lawmakers and guests to celebrate the ribbon cutting. “Everyone needs a ‘checkup from the neck up’ at certain points in life, but our current health care system doesn’t make that easy." Kennedy mentioned that his uncle President John Kennedy, signed the Community Mental Health Act and that the new urgent care model today that includes behavioral health, embodies President Kennedy's vision. Kennedy is also the founder of the Kennedy Forum and co-chair of Mental Health for the United States.

VIDEO: HMH CEO Bob Garrett introduced Patrick Kennedy who delivered a powerful and poignant speech about the real need for parity  with behavioral health care:

These new behavioral health services will improve treatment by increasing access for behavioral health patients in an easy to access setting.  It addresses the stigma associated with mental health by affording patients a safe and confidential place to access the care they need. TAPinto was given a tour of the new facility with several exam rooms, an xray area, EKG machines, an on-site lab, examination rooms that include safety features like weighted chairs that stay put, safe doors and protected outlet covers, etc. It is all designed with great detail to provide a safe place to best treat the whole patient, body and mind.  

The new center will provide more timely care for people who may otherwise have to wait to see a specialist.  “This behavioral health urgent care center is a game changer in that it acknowledges behavioral health as an essential component of overall health and makes it easy for people to connect to treatment,’’ said . Kennedy. “Breaking down barriers to care helps everyone; individuals, families, and the community at large.”

After the opening event and official ribbon cutting, guests shuttled to nearby HMH Jersey Shore Medical Center for a luncheon and program. HMH CEO Bob Garrett shared his opinion with TAPinto in response to a healthcare legislation question, as seen in the video below.

VIDEO-Hackensack Meridian Health CEO Bob Garrett speaks with TAPinto:

The new urgent care model can reduce the burden on already stressed hospital emergency departments. The close proximity to HMH Jersey Shore University Medical Center can provide immediate access to more intensive care should that be necessary.

“We believe this new model will become a shining example of best practices in the treatment of behavioral health patients and we believe it will be replicated nationally,’’ HMH CEO Garrett said.

Jeanne Wall can be reached at