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.
2009 saw the expansion of AAMH's Open Access to Care system. Open Access eliminates any waiting lists. To start mental health treatment for Outpatient psychotherapy and counseling for adults and children or to enter AAMH's Partial Care program, all anyone needs to do is to walk into the agency's facility at 819 Alexander Road in Princeton between the hours 8.00am to 2.00pm, Monday to Friday. They will be seen by a Master's level clinician and treatment will start that day. There is no need to call the agency beforehand or to make an appointment at a time convenient to the agency or wait weeks or even months to start treatment. With Open Access, AAMH eliminated any waiting for mental health care. Treatment is available when it is needed, not months from now. AAMH continues to operate this way to this day.
In late August 2011, disaster stuck AAMH's facility. In the aftermath of the torrential rains of Hurricane Irene, AAMH's building was left in a middle of a lake. There was 4 feet of water inside the building. Since flood waters contaminated all of our furniture and equipment, the interior of the entire building had to be gutted. With the help of Rue Insurance, NJAMHAA, Mercer Family Support Organization and Capital County Children's Collaborative, AAMH was able to continue to provide services while our building was entirely renovated and re equipped. Finally in February 2012, AAMH's building reopened for service.
In 2014, AAMH became only the second agency in New Jersey to be licensed by the State as a Behavioral Health Home. A Behavioral Health Home is not an actual home but a team of multidisciplinary professionals bought together to confront the premature mortality of individuals with severe mental illness. Often times, the extensive medical histories and conditions of these individuals are too complicated for the fragmented health care system to comprehensively treat. AAMH's Behavioral Health Hoe team works to help coordinate the different medical providers integrate the care.
On December 18, 2018 AAMH announced it has earned The Joint Commission’s Gold Seal of Approval® for Behavioral Health Care Accreditation by demonstrating continuous compliance with its performance standards. The Gold Seal of Approval® is a symbol of quality that reflects an organization’s commitment to providing safe and effective care. AAMH underwent a rigorous onsite survey in October 2018. During the review, compliance with behavioral health care standards related to several areas, including care, treatment, and services; environment of care; leadership; and screening procedures for the early detection of imminent harm was evaluated. Onsite observations and interviews also were conducted. Established in 1969, The Joint Commission’s Behavioral Health Care Accreditation Program currently accredits more than 2,250 organizations for a three-year period. Accredited organizations provide treatment and services within a variety of settings across the care continuum for individuals who have mental health, addiction, eating disorder, intellectual/developmental disability, and/or child-welfare related needs. “Joint Commission accreditation provides behavioral health care organizations with the processes needed to improve in a variety of areas related to the care of individuals and their families,” said Julia Finken, RN, BSN, MBA, CSSBB, CPHQ, executive director, Behavioral Health Care Accreditation Program, The Joint Commission. “We commend AAMH for its efforts to elevate the standard of care it provides and to instill confidence in the community it serves.” “(Name of organization) is pleased to receive Behavioral Health Care Accreditation from The Joint Commission, the premier health care quality improvement and accrediting body in the nation,” added Vince Haba, Executive Director of AAMH. “Staff from across the organization continue to work together to develop and implement approaches and strategies that have the potential to improve care for those in our community.” The Joint Commission’s behavioral health care standards are developed in consultation with health care experts and providers, quality improvement measurement experts, and individuals and their families. The standards are informed by scientific literature and expert consensus to help organizations measure, assess and improve performance. AAMH was also awarded a Certificate of Distinction for its Behavioral Health Home Certification by The Joint Commission.
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.