A Healthier State of Mind

The head of Behavioral Health explains the hospital’s expanded services.

To meet the needs of a growing number of patients with mental health disorders, Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital (RWJUH) Somerset has expanded its services. Tamer Wassef, MD, Medical Director of Behavioral Health Services at RWJUH Somerset, describes the hospital’s unique programs.

Tamer Wassef, MD
Tamer Wassef, MD

What services are available for people with severe mental illness?

The unit is licensed by the New Jersey Department of Health to offer voluntary and involuntary treatment for people who have a severe mental illness—such as depression and psychosis—and can’t seek care on their own. Some are dangerous to themselves or the community, so it’s important for them to be in a safe environment where they can receive the appropriate treatment.

There are very few inpatient beds available in the state, so some patients spend weeks in an Emergency Department waiting for placement. At RWJUH Somerset, we now have 12 beds for involuntary patients and 18 beds for voluntary patients. Services include partial hospitalization and intensive outpatient treatment. The hospital also has a Crisis Center, which provides emergency care for patients in crisis situations.

What changes have been made to the Eating Disorders Unit?

The unit at RWJUH Somerset is one of only two inpatient programs in the state. Eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa, are common and have the highest mortality rate of any mental health problems. Our state-of-the-art Eating Disorders Unit, which is undergoing a $9 million renovation, currently has 14 beds. In 2021, it will have six additional beds and a kitchen, where patients can prepare their own food. The unit provides occupational and group therapy as well as art therapy. We offer inpatient treatment, an intensive outpatient program, and a partial program, which runs from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Treating an eating disorder in a hospital setting benefits patients because some develop medical disorders, such as renal failure, heart problems, and gastric ulcers. We have medical consultants on staff in all different specialties to monitor and treat these problems.

Has there been an uptick in patients experiencing mental health problems?

Yes. There’s been a 30 to 40 percent increase in patients experiencing anxiety, panic attacks, depression, and suicidal thoughts since the beginning of the pandemic. People have lost their jobs and have been isolated in their homes. As a result, some are self-medicating with alcohol, which exacerbates mental health problems. Alcohol cravings can be treated with therapy and a new medication approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

What types of healthcare providers treat patients with mental health disorders?

A multidisciplinary team of specialists cares for all of our patients, which enhances their treatment. Patients with mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety are treated by psychiatrists, psychiatric nurses, psychotherapists, and licensed clinical social workers. Those with eating disorders receive care from dietitians, occupational therapists, social workers, psychiatrists, psychotherapists, and art therapists.

For more information about our Behavioral Health Services, call our Access Center at (800) 300-0628.