HMH Carrier Clinic ground breaking

HMH Breaks Ground On Carrier Clinic Expansion Project

Hackensack Meridian Health (HMH) broke ground on Carrier Clinic’s $40 million, 43,000-square-foot modernization project for treating children and adolescents and providing support services to their families.

The project will include 52 inpatient rooms for youths, a family resource and support center, innovative treatment models such as multi-sensory rooms, and an academic teaching center and medical staff suite to expand the capacity to teach physicians and other mental health professionals.

The enhancement will allow Carrier Clinic, long a leader in the treatment of adolescents with psychiatric and co-occurring disorders, to help a greater number of children by lowering the age of patients it serves to 7 from the current minimum of 12. In doing so, it will better meet the demand for mental health care for youths who are experiencing ever-increasing rates of anxiety, depression, suicide ideation, and other psychiatric conditions.

State grants and private donations fund the project. State Senator Andrew Zwicker and Assemblyman Roy Freiman led the charge in securing a total of $10 million in funding, through two consecutive state budget processes. In March, the Steven & Alexandra Cohen Foundation, led by philanthropist Alex Cohen, bestowed a $10 million grant for the project.

“Without proper and timely diagnosis and treatment of mental health conditions, today’s child in crisis becomes tomorrow’s adult in crisis,” said Robert C. Garrett, CEO of Hackensack Meridian Health. “Most mental health conditions first emerge in childhood–before the age of 14 in 30% of cases, and before the age of 18 in nearly 50% of people with mental illness.”

“Early diagnosis and proper treatment can vastly improve a child’s or adolescent’s chances for a good quality of life later on,” Garrett said. “Our mission at Hackensack Meridian Health is to transform health care and be a leader of positive change, but we cannot succeed without prioritizing child and adolescent mental health. This project was a vision a few years ago, but thanks to the generosity of the Steven and Alexandra Cohen Foundation, and the support of our legislators, today we can break ground and make it a reality.”

“Carrier Clinic’s delivery of timely care makes a world of difference for children and teens in crisis – and for parents desperate to ensure their children’s mental health needs are met. This expansion will enhance the best-in-class treatment options accessible to families in our region,” said Gov. Phil Murphy. “I am proud that our partnership with the Legislature to dedicate American Rescue Plan and State funds to this project has helped make this groundbreaking possible. I applaud the dedicated service providers at Hackensack Meridian Health for working on the frontline in the fight against our nation’s youth mental health crisis.”

The groundbreaking comes at a time when our youth are struggling with mental illness at an unprecedented rate. One in five youths between the ages of 13 and 18 now has–or someday will have–a debilitating mental health condition, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The U.S. Surgeon General’s Office found that rates of anxiety and depression already were rising among children and teens before the pandemic, a trend attributed to the growing prominence of digital media and greater academic pressure, as well as limited access to mental health care.

Historically, youth have had low rates of suicide mortality, but that began changing about a decade ago, according to Pew Reports. Today, youth and young adults (ages 10-24) account for 15% of all suicides, an increase of 52.2% since 2000. Suicide has become the second-leading cause of death for this age group, accounting for 7,126 deaths.

“As a board-certified pediatric psychiatrist who also has held leadership roles at Hackensack Meridian Health, I have witnessed first-hand the unprecedented rise of mental health issues that are affecting the families and children in the state of New Jersey,” said Dr. Eric Alcera, Carrier Clinic Chief Medical Officer.

“This expansion will increase the potential to help more children heal, and even save lives,” Alcera said. “And because we know that when one member of a household has a mental illness, others in the family can experience anxiety and despair, this expansion also prioritizes support for our young patients’ caregivers by providing space where they can have meetings and receive guidance on how to help the children.”

Currently, Carrier’s youth-focused services include a 36-bed inpatient acute hospital unit, intensive residential services program, residential treatment center, psychiatric community homes, and the East Mountain School, a state-accredited school for 7th- through 12th-grade students classified as emotionally disturbed or as having behavioral disorders. Psychiatric care for the children and adolescents includes traditional treatment models as well as equine therapy, art therapy, music therapy and horticultural therapy. The facility isn’t enough to meet the growing need, especially from increasingly younger patients.

“Since the Covid-19 pandemic, many people continue to grapple with mental health issues and face barriers to care,” said Senator Andrew Zwicker (D-Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex Somerset). “After learning of Hackensack Meridian Health’s plans to step up and meet the needs of our adolescent’s mental health, I made sure to prioritize funding for this needed project in last year’s budget and am proud to have secured $10 million to ensure this Carrier Clinic becomes a reality.”

“Over time, we have witnessed a growing demand for mental health services for children and adolescents, making Carrier Clinic essential in providing our kids with dedicated and specialized support during their formative years,” said Assemblyman Roy Freiman (D-Somerset, Mercer, Middlesex, Hunterdon). “Our kids face numerous stressors that are intensified by social media and the lingering effects of COVID-19. The clinic’s focus on their mental health will bridge a critical gap, significantly improving the way we approach their mental well-being and treatment.”

“Carrier Clinic provides a window into mental health trends in our state, even our country,” said Patricia Toole, Carrier Clinic president and chief hospital executive. “Children and adolescents are coming to us with a significant amount of trauma. The pandemic intensified the need for inpatient mental health care for our youth in the state of New Jersey. The demand has outpaced resources, so children struggle to access the appropriate levels of care after discharge. We hope this new project will create greater access to care.”

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