Superstorm Sandy Study Finds 16 Percent of Medicare Recipients in Hard-Hit Communities at Risk for Depression, Yet Fewer than One Percent Receive Depression Screening

More than 16 percent of Medicare recipients in the New Jersey counties hardest hit by Superstorm Sandy are at risk for depression, yet less than one percent have received depression screening, a new benefit now covered by Medicare. The data come from the first phase of an ambitious project to measure the behavioral health repercussions of Superstorm Sandy, by Health Quality Strategies Inc. (HQSI), the Medicare Quality Improvement Organization for New Jersey.

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Our aim is to learn as much as we can about how Superstorm Sandy affected Medicare recipients to strengthen and direct services for those who need them today and better prepare for tomorrow.

East Brunswick, NJ (PRWEB) February 03, 2014

More than 16 percent of Medicare recipients in the New Jersey counties hardest hit by Superstorm Sandy are at risk for depression, yet less than one percent have received depression screening, a new benefit now covered by Medicare.

The data come from the first phase of an ambitious project to measure the behavioral health repercussions of Superstorm Sandy, by Health Quality Strategies Inc. (HQSI), the Medicare Quality Improvement Organization for New Jersey. By better understanding residents’ behavioral health needs, communities can strengthen their services and response in the event of future disasters.

HQSI has completed the first phase of the Medicare-funded project, titled “Enhancing Behavioral Health Services After Superstorm Sandy: Planning for Future Disasters.” This phase included the creation of county profiles gauging the behavioral health needs and available services in the 10 FEMA-declared disaster counties.

The profiles are based on claims data for Medicare fee-for-service recipients, or so-called “traditional” Medicare recipients, not enrolled in HMO-style plans. The county profiles for Atlantic, Bergen, Cape May, Essex, Hudson, Middlesex, Monmouth, Ocean, Somerset and Union counties are now available on the HQSI website, http://www.HQSI.org. HQSI is also creating and will post profiles for a sub-set of 10 communities that explore potential changes in behavioral health status and risks on a local level.

The profiles gauge rates of depression, substance abuse, anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder and other behavioral health conditions among Medicare “fee-for-service” recipients in each county. The profiles also look at behavioral health services used by Medicare recipients, and examines hospital and emergency room admissions.

One finding showed that in the 10 counties, on average, more than 16 percent of Medicare fee-for-service recipients were at risk of depression, based on risk factors, such as Alzheimer’s and dementia, sleep disorders, substance abuse, hip fractures and amputations. Yet just about one half of one percent of Medicare recipients in the 10 counties have received depression screening, according to data used to create the county profiles. Medicare began reimbursing providers for each depression screening they conducted as of January 2012.

“Our aim is to learn as much as we can about how Superstorm Sandy affected Medicare recipients,” said HQSI quality improvement specialist Judith Miller, MS, RN, “so community stakeholders, including county offices on aging, hospitals, local government, non-profit agencies and behavioral health professionals can strengthen and direct services for those who need them today and better prepare for tomorrow. We would also like providers and Medicare recipients to know that depression screening is a covered benefit. Older adults are especially vulnerable to physical and behavioral health issues after a disaster. Since depression can affect physical health, screening is an important tool.”

The initial profiles create a baseline of behavioral health needs and services in the months preceding the October 2012 storm. The study’s final phase, expected later this year, will include additional post-Sandy data and allow researchers to measure how the disaster affected the mental health of Medicare recipients.

HQSI will also help community organizations work together to develop action plans to increase the use of the Medicare-covered depression screening benefit and enhance coordination of behavioral health services at the local level.

HQSI, based in East Brunswick, 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.

HQSI plans to submit a final project report to CMS in July 2014.

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.


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