A Lifetime of Leadership in Behavioral Health Care

In this blog post, we get to know Karl Wilson, former president and CEO of Crider Health Center. Karl is the newest recipient of our Lifetime Achievement Award, one of several awards given through our annual Awards of Excellence program.

What does the Lifetime Achievement Award mean to you?

“It is both a wonderful surprise and a validation of what has become my life’s mission: To use what I know and learn in as broad a partnership as possible to help everyone lead a full and productive life. I generally focus forward, as there is always more to learn and a next step to be taken. However, this award gives me a pause to look back and see that, together, we have made genuine progress and learned a great deal. But our job is far from accomplished. We must keep moving forward.”

How has being a Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinic (CCBHC) benefited you?

“I’m proud that Missouri jumped on the opportunities made possible by the Excellence in Mental Health Act and that Compass Health Network embraced the CCBHC model. In changing the funding mechanism and incentive system from a fee-for-service, the CCBHC designation helped our service system evolve from one-size-fits-all maintenance to a more individually tailored, recovery-oriented system. Now, we can more effectively develop pathways between partner organizations to better work with emergency rooms, schools and the criminal justice system to get people the services they need, where and when they need them.”

How has the National Council supported you throughout your journey?

“I am grateful to the National Council for being an outstanding forum for the exchange of best practices with peers; being the source of timely information on national issues affecting behavioral health; and for making its members effective advocates on behalf of the safety net behavioral health community. I am especially privileged to have worked with Dr. Joe Parks, who alerted us to the more than 25 years of life expectancy lost by people with serious mental illness, which led to a major transformation in how we deliver services. We took responsibility for the overall health of all of our clients and consumers.”

What were some of your biggest lessons learned throughout your career?

“We learned that our community sometimes needs something more from us, and that during these times, they need us to use very different approaches. For example, our center includes the confluence of the two greatest rivers in this country, and we have been involved in more federal disaster recovery counseling grants than any other center. We also learned that when working with people under stress, we need to suppress our treatment approaches and help them make it through each day, while also laying the groundwork for recovery. Finally, we learned that a key outcome for all of us is hope.”

In your opinion, what is needed to advance behavioral health care?

“To reach our potential as community behavioral health centers, we need to go beyond what any single major funder will pay us to do. We need to find new sources of funding to sustain what works and bring it to scale to sufficiently impact the problem. We need to figure out why we have the rules we have and find ways to change policy to better benefit the people we serve. And we need to address the stigma of receiving our services by getting as close to our target populations as possible, which means reducing physical distance, being more accessible and eliminating barriers to service. Sometimes, we need to risk failure and then learn from our failures to make successful advances in our mission.”

Karl Wilson, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist and the first president and CEO of Crider Health Center, which he led for 33 years before retiring in 2012. Under Dr. Wilson’s leadership, more than 50,000 children and adults were served each year by Crider Health Center, now a part of Compass Health Network.

Guest Author

Nicholas Addison Thomas
Director of Content Marketing
National Council for Mental Wellbeing