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Susan Partain

Manager, Communication Projects, National Council for Behavioral Health

Refusing to Wait: Henderson Behavioral Health Counters First Episode Psychosis

November 26, 2014 | Uncategorized | Comments
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Based on an interview with Dr. Steve Ronik, Chief Executive Officer, Henderson Behavioral Health.

This post is the fourth and final in a series profiling National Council member organizations who have been recognized for practice innovations in our quickly shifting health care environment. Other posts featured Vinfen, Mental Health America of Los Angeles, and the Center for Health Care Services

People don’t call community behavioral health providers and say they need an intervention for first episode psychosis. They call to ask questions – they are unsure about what is going on with their child, or are confused about their own experiences.

Having a psychotic episode is a traumatic event. Too often, someone has an episode, and then they don’t get treated, and then that has ripple effects into all aspects of their life – such as increased emergency room visits, hospitalizations, substance abuse, homelessness, unemployment, and legal involvement.

Everyone wants to be well; no one wants to have a disease. Early intervention is about supporting people to get what we all want and need – friendships, relationships, jobs, meaningful connections to the world. The entire team at a behavioral health center needs to intuitively keep this perspective, and needs to remember where people are when they reach out with a concern in their life.

At Henderson Behavioral Health, they believe a focus on early intervention may help alleviate some of the persistent challenges associated with undiagnosed, untreated, or undertreated mental illness. Henderson was recognized in Phase I of Connect 4 Mental Health for its innovations in early intervention, helping to understand, treat, and serve those who experience first episode psychosis in south Florida through participation in cutting-edge research, evaluating best practices and promoting recovery for individuals with serious mental illness.


A science-based approach

Since 2010, Henderson has participated as a behavioral health care study site in the National Institute of Mental Health’s Recovery After Initial Schizophrenic Episode (RAISE) research project, designed to evaluate the potential benefits of a comprehensive pharmacological and psychosocial treatment package for individuals with first episode psychosis.

Dr. Steve Ronik, Chief Executive Officer of Henderson Behavioral Health, notes that their involvement with RAISE sparked a tremendous organizational obligation and passion for focusing on early intervention for psychosis.

Ronik notes that previously, providers did not have a science-based targeted protocol for addressing first episode psychosis. Now, the Henderson team is trained to implement the NAVIGATE program – a team-based comprehensive program for addressing first episode psychosis that involves an individual resiliency trainer, family education clinician, case manager, prescriber, and a supported employment and education specialist.

“We’re so preoccupied by this because science shows that every time someone has another episode, or relapse, they tend to come out of it a little bit worse,” mentions Ronik. “The whole aim here is to stop that cycle of relapse.”


Leadership and team

Ronik emphasizes that starting a program like this requires full support from the leadership of an organization. The CEO should be personally invested, and then the team leader will need to set the tone for an extremely welcoming, passionate, and targeted culture throughout the team.

Committed and talented team members are central to a program’s success. “The team leader and staff need not only the capacity and intellectual curiosity to attach themselves to an evidence-based program, but they also need the requisite emotional intelligence, compassion, and comfort level to connect to a person going through a first episode of psychosis,” notes Ronik.

Organizations also need to be willing to invest in training. There is a lot of literature available on early intervention, but to really implement a program, organizations need to bring people onsite to teach and spend time with the team.


Getting attention

Passion also helps to spread the word throughout the community. Henderson advertises and promotes the program through emails, in their local newspaper, on their website, and on a variety of social media channels.

Henderson engages with a number of key partners to amplify their ability to reach individuals who may have experienced first episode psychosis. People typically develop their first episode during their late teens and early twenties – a time when many people attend college. Henderson provides emergency behavioral health services for area schools and is a counseling provider for three schools in the region. Henderson provides emergency behavioral health services for area schools and provides onsite counseling for three schools in the region.

“Since we’ve opened, we’ve had no problem with people finding us,” notes Ronik. “We have a reputation as a community problem solver. We were getting hundreds of referrals for first episode psychosis before this initiative, before we had a team. Now we have a really good, specific targeted answer,” he adds.


Staying upstream

Ronik hopes to grow his early intervention team, and to make sure there are teams all over Florida and the country in the future.

Ronik refers to their approach as common sense. “No one waits for cancer until stage 3 or stage 4 – your changes of a cure are so much better if you catch it at the beginning,” he states. “So no one should have to wait with a mental illness. That is how we will help people recover completely.”

Read more about Henderson Behavioral Health, and the story of Donna and Casey Morton, on NAMI’s blog.

In this next phase of Connect 4 Mental Health (a national initiative led by National Council, NAMI, Otsuka America Pharmaceutical, Inc. and Lundbeck), Henderson Behavioral Health will mentor another community looking to accomplish similar successes. Learn more at