New Jersey doctor wants to bridge gap between mental health & primary care
A local initiative aims to bridge the gap between mental health and primary care.
Salerno Medical Associations hopes to fight New Jersey’s mental health crisis through coordinated primary and mental health care services by bringing all the services directly to the patient in a trusted space.
“COVID really tore the Band-Aid off on mental health in our country and really exposed and further exacerbated these numbers,” says Dr. Alexander Salerno.
Salerno launched a community health care outreach program – an approach that takes primary care services into behavioral health facilities.
“The system is kind of fragmented right now, especially when it comes to the mental health patient coming to the primary care doctor’s office and probably given a handful of [prescriptions] and then that patient is left to navigate without the proper tools,” Salerno says.
Salerno says that this is not the only reason so many cases of mental illness go unnoticed or untreated.
“There’s clearly a shortage – not just of primary care – but mental health in our country when it comes to physicians and providers,” Salerno says. “Depending on the cultures, it’s a bit of a taboo topic to talk about mental health.”
According to the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors, people with mental illness, on average, die 25 years earlier than the general population. And three out of five people with serious mental illness die due to a preventable health condition.
“A lot of times the medications they use to treat behavioral health disorders lead to obesity, diabetes, increased cardiovascular risks,” Salerno says. “We can find these conditions, diagnose these conditions, and treat these conditions simply because we're integrated in these safe haven sites that patients go to.”
Salerno Medical Associations hopes to fight medical mistrust for people who need care but might not feel comfortable at a traditional doctor’s office.
Salerno and his team have integrated at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center and with Mental Health Association of Essex County at an outpatient behavioral health center in East Orange.