By Meg Fry
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After nearly two years in the making, Robins’ Nest Inc. in Glassboro, Cape Counseling Services in Middle Township and NewPoint Behavioral Health Care in Woodbury announced this month the completion of a merger to become ACENDA Integrated Health in Glassboro, a nearly $58 million leader in community-based services.
“By bringing together our highly accomplished teams, innovative services and our steadfast commitment to helping others, we as an organization are moving upward to move lives forward,” Dr. Anthony DiFabio, CEO and president of ACENDA Integrated Health, said. “We’re all continuing to do what we do best, but are stronger together with our expanding scope of collective services and geographical reach.”
Each individual organization previously provided a variety of critical community-based and integrated health care, preventative and wellness services for all ages and families, including addiction and recovery programs, children and family services, crisis and mental health counseling, and more.
“All of our organizations already had been embedded and engaged in our communities providing life enhancing services,” DiFabio said. “But the beauty of this merger is that, while we had some level of overlap in our programs and services, we more so had tremendous compatibility.
“Not only have we maintained our collective mission-driven focus, but we also have expanded upon our ability and capacity to have a greater impact.”
Prior to the merger, Cape Counseling Services primarily focused in Cape May County, and New Point Behavioral Health Care, focused in Gloucester County.
“But families often move from one county to another, or individuals age out of certain programs,” DiFabio said. “How could we provide them with continuity of care if we continued to only focus on one county or one issue?”
For example, DiFabio, who previously served as CEO and president of Robins’ Nest, said the organization was one of the best in the country for child welfare services.
“But those that end up in the system often experience challenges with adult mental health, addiction, domestic violence or poverty,” he said. “It’s not enough to be well-intended in addressing one specific issue when we know the needs of that child and family are infinitely more complex and require much more robust support and services than what we might have been able to provide before.”
Communities in South Jersey, DiFabio added, especially needed multiple organizations to become more integrated in their delivery of services.
“That is why we felt a merger was the right decision,” he said.
ACENDA Integrated Health will now be able to provide more than 100 health and social service programs across 56 locations throughout 10 counties in southern New Jersey, including working with at-risk and abused children and families, new and expectant parents on positive child-rearing skills, teens and young adults on employment readiness, returning veterans and their families on their transition back, older adults and caregivers on in-home geriatric support, and much more.
FamCare Inc. also will join as an affiliate organization to share in the infrastructure and services while providing clients with access to comprehensive family planning and reproductive healthcare services.
“If you look at the portfolio of programs and services offered by ACENDA, we are truly designed to be an integrated care and population health focused organization,” DiFabio said. “You may come to us because you’re experiencing depression or anxiety, and one of our therapists may be able to help you with strategies to more effectively manage that, but if we really look into it, sometimes that may stem from socioeconomic challenges. For example, are you homeless or housing unstable? Perhaps we need to help you address that so you can focus your energies elsewhere. Also, what can we do to help you receive better job training? What about financial literacy or credit counseling?
“While we have tremendous partners in our communities, including other social and human services organizations, that we work with to address complete medical care, we see ourselves as an organization that is going to be able to acknowledge the root cause and help one best move forward with a plan for integrated care.”
This holistic approach to health and wellness is especially important for at-risk children, DiFabio said.
“A 12-year-old who lives in Camden city, for example, might exhibit oppositional defiant behavior while getting in trouble at school and missing classes, and the traditional model would be to see a physician who would give him medication for ADHD,” DiFabio said. “But, if this child is going to a high-crime neighborhood after school, to a home with no one in it, to play video games while drinking beverages with high-fructose corn syrup, you can have the best physician in the world, but the root causes of their behavior may still not be addressed. They may need to be placed in after-school programs or have access to anger management courses, as well as healthier food options.
“At some point we need to ask, is there more to this that we need to address if we want to help this person become healthier?”
In addition to focusing on the overall well-being of its communities, the merger also will help to create stronger business models and larger economics of scale while also increasing diversity of funding, DiFabio said.
“As the world grows more complex, we need to be more sophisticated in our compliance, technology, infrastructure, marketing, fundraising and branding — all of the things that require an unprecedented level of resources and support, as well as top leadership and talent,” he said. “That is difficult to do when you are a smaller organization — but, together, we are able to leverage our resources and infrastructures to have the economies of scale and back office support to immediately advance the organization forward.”
ACENDA Integrated Health now employs nearly 1,000 while serving more than 27,000 clients throughout Atlantic, Burlington, Camden, Cape May, Cumberland, Gloucester, Mercer, Monmouth, Ocean and Salem counties.
Greg Speed, former Cape Counseling Services CEO, will become chief integration officer for ACENDA; John ZuKauskas, former NewPoint Behavioral Health Care CEO, will become an executive consultant for ACENDA; and Kathie Nixon will remain executive director and CEO of FamCare Inc.
“We took the time to better understand each organization’s teams and cultures, scopes of services and the strengths and challenges each had in the way of business development and administrative work,” DiFabio said. “But it really was almost a call to arms, if you will.”
Above all, the merger is a heavily mission-focused commitment to the communities in which they serve, he added.
“At the most aspirational level, ACENDA represents a renewed commitment to our communities that we are never going to give up on them or just simply stand by when we know that the hardships and challenges that they are experiencing are greater and more complex than ever,” DiFabio said.