HealthcareAdvocare Taps Fort Health to Accelerate Access to Pediatric Behavioral Health Care Services in New Jersey and Pennsylvania

Advocare LLC, a 750-provider multi-specialty group practice based in New Jersey with the largest number of pediatric providers in the state, today announced a partnership with Fort Health, a virtual pediatric behavioral healthcare company built with the Child Mind Institute, to expand services delivered through primary care. Advocare’s primary care facilities throughout New Jersey and Pennsylvania will now have the option to leverage Fort Health’s services giving more than 450 primary care providers and their patients access to quality behavioral healthcare services through a Collaborative Care model.

Pediatric providers are overwhelmed with patients struggling with behavioral health conditions and mental health has surpassed physical conditions as the most commonly presenting clinical and non-clinical issue. This is not surprising given that only about 20% of children with mental, emotional, or behavioral disorders receive care from a specialized mental health care provider.

“Three out of four youths start their mental health journey in a pediatrician’s office, and 75% of them are initially diagnosed by their pediatrician or primary care provider,” said Natalie Schneider, founder and CEO of Fort Health. “Integrating behavioral health into primary care has untapped potential in addressing the youth mental health crisis. To do it at scale requires innovative clinical and payment models that improve clinical quality and staffing, which is why we have partnered with Advocare to launch Collaborative Care in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. We need to open more paths to better care for more families and their children.”

According to the April 2023 Youth Mental Health Report, in New Jersey, close to 25% of children are reported to have at least one mental health condition. And, 72,000 of NJ teens ages 12-17 suffer from depression. In Pennsylvania, the percentage of children with depression or anxiety jumped by an alarming 28%, from 10.2% (226,000) to 13% (282,000) of children ages 3-17, in 2022 alone.

“We chose to work with Fort Health to implement Collaborative Care at our care sites because they have proven capabilities in delivering technology-enabled care of the highest quality,” said Amy Prestifilippo, vice president of Population Health at Advocare LLC. “Dozens of our practices already refer patients to them and trust their clinicians.”

Collaborative Care, a type of integrated care, has emerged as the strongest evidence-based model. Collaborative Care is a team-based approach to identify and treat patients with mild to moderate behavioral health conditions in primary care settings. There are over 80 randomized controlled trials that have demonstrated that Collaborative Care increases access to mental health care, and is more effective and cost-efficient than traditional behavioral health care.

Collaborative Care is covered by insurance, alleviating a major barrier to care, particularly as a child’s mental health office visit is 10.1 times (1000 percent) more likely to be out-of-network than a primary care office visit, and twice as likely as an adult mental health visit.

Fort Health clinicians and Advocare doctors form a care team that provides the child with the appropriate levels of support and care based on their individual needs. From short talk therapy interventions to psychiatric evaluations to parent coaching.

“Most pediatricians didn’t have a single rotation in child and adolescent psychiatry and were not trained to treat behavioral health conditions,” said Dr. Sara Harmon, Behavioral Health Medical Director at Advocare. “As a result, many kids are not receiving the treatment they need and 66% of pediatricians report difficulty in finding mental health referrals. In addition to increasing access to care, this partnership also improves our pediatricians’ capacity to provide more treatment collaboratively with Fort Health’s psychiatric consultants.


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