East Brunswick, NJ - Studies of Hurricane Katrina and other natural disasters show that victims of events like Super Storm Sandy can experience a prolonged period of elevated health risk, months or even years after the initial event. Older adults especially are vulnerable to physical and behavioral health issues. To help New Jersey assess who is at risk, Healthcare Quality Strategies, Inc. (HQSI) was awarded a $1.5 million special innovations project grant from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to measure the behavioral health repercussions of Super Storm Sandy in New Jersey’s hardest hit counties.
The ambitious 12-month project will compare the use of selected Medicare services before and after the massive October, 2012, storm in the FEMA-declared disaster counties. HQSI, the federally designated quality improvement organization for New Jersey, will use the data to identify 10 communities within those counties that have the greatest opportunity for behavioral health-related improvements. HQSI will then help the communities minimize negative health consequences for seniors at increased risk for depression and those with pre-existing mental health illnesses, and to plan for future disasters.
“The more we learn about how this disaster affected our Medicare beneficiaries, the better we can prepare for any future disaster and help ensure the health and well-being of all New Jersey residents,” said Martin P. Margolies, Chief Executive Officer of Healthcare Quality Strategies, Inc. (HQSI).
HQSI will use the expertise of its analytic, quality improvement and healthcare staff professionals, as well as a small group of subject-matter experts, to create profiles based on Medicare claims and other available data. HQSI plans to share the completed profiles with behavioral health and disaster planning experts, and facilitate meetings in the targeted communities.
These meetings will bring together community stakeholders including behavioral health professionals, county offices on aging, hospitals, government and non-profit agencies, and others. HQSI will help community members work together to develop an action plan to increase utilization of the Medicare-covered depression screening benefit and enhance coordination of behavioral health services at the local level in preparation for future disasters.
“There are a variety of behavioral health initiatives under way in the state right now that are designed to support people impacted by Super Storm Sandy,” says Suzanne Dalton, RN, BS, EdM, who is leading this project for HQSI. “Working together, we can ensure these initiatives are complementary so we can maximize the benefit to our residents.”
HQSI plans to submit a final project report to CMS in July 2014. “None of us wants to experience another disaster like Sandy,” Dalton said. “But if we do experience another disaster we want to be as prepared as possible.”
East Brunswick-based HQSI partners with healthcare providers, organizations, communities, and consumers to make healthcare safer, more efficient, and more effective. Working under contract with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, HQSI is the nonprofit federally designated quality improvement organization (QIO) for New Jersey. Its methods include assessing opportunities for improvement, sharing best practices, and designing strategies with measurable and sustainable results. The goal is for consumers to receive high-quality, patient-centered care with the best possible outcomes.