DOH, seeking to ease mainstreaming of behavioral health, looks to change licensing requirements

In an effort to ease the integration of behavioral health into mainstream health care, New Jersey Health Commissioner Shereef Elnahal said his department is working on changing licensing regulations so there is only a single license required for behavioral health.

Elnahal discussed the work the Department of Health is doing to achieve this on Thursday at the signing ceremony in Belle Mead that marked the merger of Hackensack Meridian Health and Carrier Clinic.

“For so long, our regulations and our rules had to make the silos that we see today,” Elnahal said. “A separate Carrier Clinic, a separate Hackensack Meridian, a separate acute care hospital outpatient physician clinic that can help with substance abuse. That’s because the requirements and regulations were so different for each of those that it was hard to create an innovative care model.”

What Hackensack Meridian and Carrier Clinic have done puts them ahead of the curve, Elnahal said.

“We also now have the state psychiatric hospitals under the state Department of Health,” he said. “We need a more expansive and adequate network of community care to receive patients with the most severe mental health illness, who reside in those hospitals or are being treated in those hospitals, to allow them the opportunity to be discharged back into the community.”

This cannot be done unless the state looks at the problem of silos and tackles it with an innovative approach, he said.

“The single license will naturally do that,” Elnahal told ROI-NJ after the event.

“It will be one opportunity for a delivery provider to apply for one license that will allow them in an outpatient basis to provide mental health, physical health and substance use care without all of the specific requirements that made it hard to do that before.”

Those specific requirements are as mundane as the size of hallways in a facility. Different types of mental health facilities have different requirements for their buildouts.

“It was really impossible to build a single clinic … without having separate sections,” Elnahal said. “So, when you go into a place that has decided to invest into integrated care anyway, you’ll see that there are these strange setups in these clinics that have to meet these regulations.

“That makes no sense. It increases costs, it makes it harder to deliver the right care and it’s not evidence-based. So, the single license is among the most important things we are doing.”

Elnahal said he hopes as early as spring of this year to begin the regulatory process to change the rules.

Read more from ROI-NJ: