Counterpoint: Bergen hospital’s name change is causing confusion in behavioral health community

Recently, ROI-NJ’s Anjalee Khemlani interviewed Deborah Visconi, the CEO and president of the former Bergen Regional Medical Center, which last fall was rebranded “New Bridge Medical Center.” The piece rightfully pointed out that the county hospital is facing a battle over its name change, since “New Bridge” is already taken by NewBridge Services, the 55-year-old nonprofit behavioral health care provider where I am proud to work.

NewBridge Services provides mental health services, substance abuse treatment, affordable housing and education to upwards of 10,000 people a year from throughout North Jersey. For more than a half-century, we’ve built a strong reputation helping people overcome great challenges. However, we now find ourselves in an identity crisis created by the actions of Bergen County officials. As a result, vulnerable people in the community are confused, and that is harming accessibility to services and causing undue anxiety for clients, family members, agencies and community at large. Over the past several months and continuing today, we’ve tried — to no avail — to talk with Bergen County officials about these problems.

On a daily basis, we hear from clients, family members and service partners who mistakenly believe we’ve merged with the hospital or taken it over. NewBridge Services has a common mission, geographical area and program offerings with the county hospital. But we should not be sharing a name — especially after the decades we’ve spent establishing our standing in the region as a trusted resource.

We’ve even had staff members interfacing with the Bergen County Administrator’s Office doing client case management, and when we say we’re with “NewBridge Services,” they automatically start talking about the hospital. It isn’t only those under our system of care who are affected. We’ve heard from Morris County mental health staff who received calls from family members about a person in need about his recent placement at Greystone. One woman reported that her son was transferred from NewBridge. The mental health staff member expressed confusion, with the family member indicating that NewBridge did not have in-patient beds — ultimately, it was discovered that the mother was speaking about Bergen County Medical Center.

Another time, we heard from an administrator at St. Clare’s hospital, whose staff expressed great concern that Bergen County’s name change would confuse co-workers, clients and family members. We even received calls from the Sussex County jail looking for records for an individual who supposedly had just completed a program with us. This person was not in our database, and, after much research and time wasted, it turned out he had most likely completed a program at Bergen County Medical Center. We’ve also had our phone lines tied up by companies looking to sponsor Bergen Medical Center’s golf outing!

All too often, people seeking our help will mistakenly contact the hospital or vice versa. That may not seem like a big deal. But for someone in crisis, it can take all their willpower to reach out for help. If they wind up getting the runaround due to confusion over the hospital’s new name, they may simply give up. With the complexities of physician referrals, insurance authorizations and other health care bureaucracies, arranging behavioral health care is not an easy task to begin with. Adding in chaos over the name change makes the process even more daunting, especially for families in crisis. It raises to the level of life-threating confusion — especially someone experiencing an overdose of opiates or other drugs.

Make no mistake, Bergen County government is making things more difficult for those seeking urgent treatment. Rather than servicing clients, much of our staff is spending precious time sorting out confusion caused by the name change and forcing those in need to call somewhere else. I sincerely hope that Bergen County Executive James Tedesco and his team will do the right thing and choose a different name for their hospital.

One of the greatest challenges for community nonprofits is making yourself easily accessible and known to residents who need you most. NewBridge is fully committed to protecting the good name we’ve built and that our clients have trusted these past many years. We’ll pursue every necessary avenue to preserve our well-established identify. And, of course, we prefer to achieve a mutually beneficial outcome with Bergen County.

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