December 16, 2015

Princeton House Behavioral Health Celebrates 25 Years of Growth


CUTTING THE RIBBON ON A SIXTH OUTPATIENT CENTER: Richard Wohl, right, president of Princeton House Behavioral Health and senior vice president of Princeton HealthCare System; and Eatontown Borough Council President Mark W. Regan, center, were joined by staffers to open Princeton House’s outpatient center in Eatontown last spring. The Eatontown facility is the latest in a pattern of growth for the Princeton-based institution.

Back in 1990, Princeton House Behavioral Health was losing money. There was a lack of confidence in its services. The Board of Trustees was considering putting the organization up for sale.

That’s when Richard Wohl was hired as vice president. With advanced degrees in both social work and business, he had other ideas about the organization’s future. “I thought it sounded like a business turnaround,” he said during a recent interview in his office. “I had had two prior jobs I regarded as turnarounds, so I knew how they worked. They decided to give it one more try.”

Twenty five years later, Princeton House has seven locations including the local facility on Herrontown Road. There is a staff of 700 and a combined operating budget of $65 million. The facilities admit 3,800 inpatients and 5,000 outpatients, recording some 90,000 outpatient visits a year. President of the organization since 2013, Mr. Wohl is also senior vice president for Princeton HealthCare System, which includes a psychiatric emergency center, an eating disorders center, and other mental health services under its umbrella.

“I came here with the idea of making this place better,” Mr. Wohl said. “I think having the business and clinical background was a good mix that served me well. And I was never opposed to the idea of growth.”

Opened in 1971, Princeton House treats psychiatric disorders, addiction, and co-occurring disorders. There are specialty programs for women, children, young adults, first responders, teenaged girls, and men experiencing past trauma.

Once he came on board, Mr. Wohl began by talking with the staff about managed care, service excellence and patient satisfaction. “There were enough concepts that needed a lot of work,” he recalled. “People needed to learn about managed care. There wasn’t any real effort to improve programs, but it wasn’t uncommon to operate that way at the time.”

Within a year, a dual diagnoses program was put in, and that continues today. Mr. Wohl focused his energies on the Herrontown Road facility for the first six years of his tenure. The organization hired its first salaried medical doctors in 1997. “There were seven then, and we have around 50 today,” he said. That same year, Princeton House acquired sites in North Brunswick and Cherry Hill. “That was huge for us,” he said. “They have become real powerhouses. Both had 14 patients to start, and now have 120 a day.”

The main campus in Princeton now houses the inpatient hospital, two outpatient facilities, and a modern suite for electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). In addition to the facilities in North Brunswick and Cherry Hill, there are outpatient centers in Hamilton, Moorestown, and Eatontown.

Asked what he considers the most important issues in his field today, Mr. Wohl said the overlap of addictions in behavioral health is hugely under-appreciated. “Certainly in this country, the situation is made much more difficult because of the fact that people who have psychological problems also use drugs,” he said. “I’m proud of the fact that 70 percent of our staff in inpatient also treat addictions. We have tremendous depth in treating co-occurring psychological and addiction disorders.”

Mr. Wohl also counts the increased involvement of insurance companies as a major change in the state of health care. “It has led to a real focus on cost and reduction in people’s length of stays,” he said. “When I first came here, the length of stay was about 25 days. Now it’s six or seven.”

The drug epidemic has been another recent focus. The organization expanded its Young Adult Program in 2014 with an inpatient program for those aged 18 to 24, considered the epicenter of the epidemic. Other recent innovations include alternative educational programs for behaviorally disabled students, studies involving hepatitis C virus in young heroin users in New Jersey, and a doctoral psychology internship program accredited by the American Psychological Association.

“Things haven’t slowed down in the last two years,” Mr. Wohl said. “If anyone had told me when I started here that we would be this size or this complex, I never would have believed it. What’s happening here now is we’re trying to make sure we do a nice job digesting new programs to make sure they work. There is no grand plan. Something will come up, and we’ll embrace it.”

Growth has been a response to need. “We’re not seeking to grow just to grow,” Mr. Wohl continued. “We seek to expand offerings when they make sense with our existing services. And that’s always been the way we’ve gone after it. We’ve grown because we wanted to add services that add value to our patients and the community, rather than we just need to be bigger next year.”