The Association for the Advancement of the Mentally Handicapped (AAMH) was founded in 1974 by the parents of developmentally disabled adult children who were institutionalized or living in the community under adverse quality of life conditions. These parents sought to create a community-based continuum of comprehensive social care and rehabilitative services for their children and others like them so that they could live in the community with dignity and respect.
During the 1970s, AAMH provided a range of supported housing, outpatient and vocational services to developmentally disabled individuals and their families. Because of its grass roots family involvement, AAMH was able to enlist significant support from the community to advance its mission. Soon AAMH had chapters in Somerset and Union counties in New Jersey and in Dade County in Florida.
During 1978, the Mercer County chapter of AAMH expanded its service population to provide services to de-institutionalized mentally ill adults who were being discharged from state psychiatric hospitals. This resulted from the State of New Jersey's efforts to downsize institutional care and costs, and upgrade community-based services for this population. In 1981, the various chapters of the AAMH split into separate non-profit entities and the Mercer county chapter changed its name to the Association for Advancement of Mental Health to reflect its expanded mission to provide services to both the developmentally disabled and the seriously mentally ill.
Throughout the 1980s, the Association for Advancement of Mental Health (AAMH) developed a psychosocial rehabilitative approach to its work and philosophy of assisting individuals with mental illness and developmental disabilities. Available funding and service population growth spurred the agency to serve larger numbers of mentally ill consumers and this population became the predominant focus of the agency's services. AAMH now concentrated on providing outpatient counseling and psychiatric services while retaining and emphasizing its vocational and life skills development programs.
During this time AAMH also expanded its outpatient and psychiatric services to include individuals, couples and families affected by a broad range of emotional and behavioral disorders. In 1988 AAMH secured State DMHS funding to provide liaison program services to hospitalized clients being discharged to the community. AAMH also continued to receive significant community support from Mercer County businesses and foundations to sustain the mission and work of the agency.
During 1993 and 1994 AAMH secured State DMHS Re-Direction Plan funding related to the closing of Marlboro State Psychiatric Hospital. AAMH expanded its outpatient, partial care and vocational programs with this funding. In 1998 AAMH collaborated with the Greater Trenton CMHC to develop a State DMHS funded, countywide Integrated Case Management Service program. This program provides intensive, outreach case management services to seriously mentally ill individuals who have chronic histories of hospitalization. In 1999 AAMH collaborated with Catholic Charities, Diocese of Trenton to develop a State DMHS funded, countywide Supportive Housing program. This new program expanded the residential mental health services continuum beyond the traditional transitional housing model that had existed since the 1970's. The Supportive Housing program assists seriously mentally ill persons in securing permanent housing in the community and provides ongoing support, case management and direct assistance services to maintain the clients' independent community living situation.
Also throughout the 1990's AAMH participated in extensive community education activities and events to reduce the stigma associated with mental illness in our society and communities. AAMH also forged several collaborative alliances with family advocacy groups (NAMI Mercer) and other mental health provider organizations to improve the quality and comprehensive range of mental health services in Mercer County.
AAMH entered the new millennium by receiving accreditation from the Joint Commission of Accredited Health Care Organizations (JCAHO), the leading national accreditation organization in the behavioral health care field. This premier accreditation qualified AAMH to gain entry into managed care plan networks serving individuals requiring behavioral health care services. This enabled the agency to continue serving mentally disabled populations that were now receiving health insurance coverage from HMO type plans. It also helped AAMH to further expand services to individuals with a range of other behavioral health care disorders or needs. AAMH immediately secured a sub-contract relationship with University Behavioral Health Care - University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey to provide services to Magellan Managed Care covered clients.
Through the year 2000 to today, AAMH is able to boast numerous accomplishments including expanding our treatment population to include children and youth (ages 5-21). AAMH has used the principals of easy and rapid access to services, flexible treatment arrangements and the importance of family involvement in its work with children ages 5 to 21. AAMH has a highly qualified clinical staff, specially trained in the provision of children services, led by board certified child psychiatrists. In 2006, in collaboration with the Mercer County Hispanic Association, AAMH was granted a Human Resources Development Initiative. This grant has provided funding to provide bi-lingual, bi-cultural outpatient counseling, case management & community outreach services to seriously mentally ill Latino individuals & their families living in the Princeton, Hightstown- East Windsor & Trenton areas of Mercer County.
In 2007, using its own funds and not requesting additional financial support from any source, AAMH hired a Certified Substance Abuse Counselor to work in its Partial Care program. The agency took this step in response to the growing need for substance abuse services for the severely mentally ill. Despite the strain on the agency's resources, we believe this step was necessary to meet the service needs of our population and in recognition of the limited funding abilities of the public system. Also during this year, AAMH hired additional clinical staff for our Supported Employment and Partial Care programs to meet growing demand for these services. Again, in both of these instances, no additional public funding was sought.
In 2008, AAMH received a grant from Bristol Myers-Squibb to provide Rapid Access Services to economically disadvantaged children and their families. This was in response to the growing awareness of a two tiered mental health system in New Jersey. In one system, families with economic resources can obtain mental health services in a matter of days. Research has demonstrated that for these families, quick access to services result in more effective use and benefits of mental health treatment and decreased use of more expensive forms of treatment. In the public system, due to restraints of funding, there are long waiting lists for treatment. AAMH Rapid Access program seeks to provide quick, easy access to mental health treatment by ensuring an intake evaluation is provided within 3 days of request and treatment is initiated within 7 days of that. Because of this program, AAMH has been able to successfully treat over 150 children that would have normally been placed on a long wait list with the possibility of receiving little to no treatment at all.
AAMH continues to be a superior provider or quality mental health care. Because of our high quality treatment, we can now boast that we service over 1,800 clients per year which is a dramatic increase from where we were just a few years ago.