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March 23, 2021

Primary Care Setting Ideal to Address Pandemic Related Depression, Anxiety and Substance Use Disorders

March 23, 2021— (BRONX, NY)— As we pass one year since COVID-19 began to devastate the U.S., early research predicts that nearly 35 million people nationwide will develop a new behavioral health condition due to the stress, isolation and economic pressure associated with the pandemic. Access to mental health providers wasn’t easy pre-pandemic; but in the Bronx, home to New York City’s highest coronavirus rates, Montefiore Health System, which co-locates mental health services in primary care offices, already had a decade of experience tackling anxiety, depression and substance use disorders.

Now, Montefiore has become the first health system in New York City to earn a Behavioral Health Distinction from the National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA), one of the nation's highest honors for treating behavioral needs in primary care settings. The designation is awarded for efficient use of protocols and resources to improve care access, experience and patient outcomes.

“We can’t only treat the mind or the body – both must be healthy to create wellness,” said Asif Ansari, M.D., regional medical director, Montefiore Medical Group. “By tackling depression and anxiety symptoms, we’re helping our patients, many of whom have chronic illnesses, maintain beneficial routines like exercise, which is incredibly important during the era of COVID and in regular times.”

Montefiore’s approach to care integrates social workers, psychologists and psychiatrists in primary care locations for adults and children. Symptom improvements and treatment efficacy are measured by regular screenings.

Montefiore adult patients complete more than 200,000 screenings annually for behavioral health symptoms during their doctor appointments; on average 20% are flagged for needing additional support. Of these adults, 80% are contacted and offered treatment, which contrasts with only 20% who connect with care across the country.

“In 2020, support for substance use disorders, depression and anxiety dramatically increased; 10,000 adults met the criteria for a referral,” said Jason Herrick, M.D., interim director of the Adult Behavioral Health Integration Program at Montefiore Medical Group. “We can help people who are overwhelmed by life’s stressors, including those who are struggling with grief, work or numbness. Half of our patients who completed treatment felt a decrease in severity of depression symptoms after 12 weeks, according to past research.”

Infants, children and teens also get screened during wellness checkups. Standardized questionnaires help identify struggles with anxiety, depression, stress due to distance learning, school performance and early substance use disorders. During pediatric medical visits, almost 40% of patients and families who were referred for a behavioral health appointment met with a pediatric psychologist the same day, making it more likely they would return for support.

“Our program steps in at the first sign of challenges,” said Miguelina Germán, Ph.D., director of Pediatric Behavioral Health Services at Montefiore Medical Group and associate professor, Pediatrics and Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Albert Einstein College of Medicine. “Having strategies early on may help some children avoid a clinical diagnosis later in life and teaches families important skills to improve healthy relationships with themselves and others in the future.”  

As part of the process NCQA sets a 2-hour session with each health system to discuss their application and activities. “Our meeting ended up being a 10-minute congratulatory call,” said Anika Joseph- Henry, MPA, transformation manager at Montefiore Medical Group. “This distinction is a testament to the dedication of our providers who work as a team and are there for all of our patients’ needs. We couldn’t be prouder.”



About Montefiore Health System

Montefiore Health System is one of New York’s premier academic health systems and is a recognized leader in providing exceptional quality and personalized, accountable care to approximately three million people in communities across the Bronx, Westchester and the Hudson Valley. It is comprised of 10 hospitals, including the Children’s Hospital at Montefiore, Burke Rehabilitation Hospital and more than 200 outpatient ambulatory care sites. The advanced clinical and translational research at its medical school, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, directly informs patient care and improves outcomes. From the Montefiore-Einstein Centers of Excellence in cancer, cardiology and vascular care, pediatrics, and transplantation, to its preeminent school-based health program, Montefiore is a fully integrated healthcare delivery system providing coordinated, comprehensive care to patients and their families. For more information please visit Follow us on Twitter and view us on Facebook and YouTube.

About Albert Einstein College of Medicine

Albert Einstein College of Medicine is one of the nation’s premier centers for research, medical education and clinical investigation. During the 2020-21 academic year, Einstein is home to 721 M.D. students, 178 Ph.D. students, 109 students in the combined M.D./Ph.D. program, and 265 postdoctoral research fellows. The College of Medicine has more than 1,900 full-time faculty members located on the main campus and at its clinical affiliates. In 2020, Einstein received more than $197 million in awards from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). This includes the funding of major research centers at Einstein in aging, intellectual development disorders, diabetes, cancer, clinical and translational research, liver disease, and AIDS. Other areas where the College of Medicine is concentrating its efforts include developmental brain research, neuroscience, cardiac disease, and initiatives to reduce and eliminate ethnic and racial health disparities. Its partnership with Montefiore, the University Hospital and academic medical center for Einstein, advances clinical and translational research to accelerate the pace at which new discoveries become the treatments and therapies that benefit patients. Einstein runs one of the largest residency and fellowship training programs in the medical and dental professions in the United States through Montefiore and an affiliation network involving hospitals and medical centers in the Bronx, Brooklyn and on Long Island. For more information, please visit, read our blog, follow us on Twitter, like us on Facebook, and view us on YouTube.