Five Question Fridays With Linda Rosenberg
Our ‘Five Question Fridays’ interview series is back this week with another exciting guest. The goal of this interview series is to talk to the brightest minds in the Health and Human Services about everything from technology to policy. In our last interview, we spoke with Dr. Lloyd Sederer, the Chief Medical Officer of the New York State Office of Mental Health, about the recent increase in demand for Mental Health services and the impact of digital strategies.
This week, we are honored to welcome Linda Rosenberg, the President and CEO of the National Council for Mental Wellbeing. From hosting conferences that draw thousands of attendees from all over the world to using her influence to help pass important laws in Washington, Linda has unarguably become one of the nation’s most effective and respected leaders in advancing the care and awareness of those suffering with mental illness and substance use disorders. Looking forward, Linda continues to find innovative ways to grow National Council’s list of member organizations.
Check out our ‘Five Question Fridays’ interview with Linda Rosenberg below:
Linda, back in 2004 you were appointed President and CEO of the National Council for Mental Wellbeing. Since then, you’ve seen the list of members grow to over 2,900 organizations who serve over 10 million adults, children, and families annually. To what do you attribute the remarkable growth of the National Council for Mental Wellbeing, and what are some of the biggest changes you’ve noticed in the behavioral health landscape over the past 13 years?
Our growth coincides with and is fueled by change, and the biggest change is that mental health and addictions have come out of the shadows.
There is greater openness and awareness about mental health than ever before. People choose to openly share their stories, and this simple, brave act is breaking down the barriers of stigma. This phenomenon is partly fueled by the growth of social media, which has created a new generation of young people who talk openly and freely about their illnesses, opening the doors to wider conversations. We have seen a cultural shift, as people unite in shared experiences and celebrate their differences.
Advances in science prove that recovery is possible and is to be expected, allowing us to adopt a new way of thinking about mental illnesses and addictions as a chronic disease – not a character flaw. The National Council has not only seen these advances, we have anticipated what their impact would be – and we’ve acted.
We brought Mental Health First Aid to this country 10 years ago, because we saw the public’s interest and willingness not only to talk about mental illnesses and addictions, but to do something to help. The National Council has long seen the growing opioid crisis and the benefits of medication-assisted treatment. In 2013, we began our merger with a national addiction association, knowing we were stronger together. And we were right.
We are fearless, but not reckless, in how we tackle difficult and sometimes controversial issues, and people are attracted to that level of commitment and strategic approach to change. As a result, our membership has grown and diversified. Our board embraced a big tent philosophy and the staff has lived their intent – member organizations reflect all those serving people affected by mental illnesses and addictions, including state and local governments, health systems and hospitals, residential treatment, community health centers, child welfare, housing, and community behavioral health organizations. What unites our members is their commitment to effective treatment that’s available to all. Health care as a right not a privilege.
To influence policies that affect patients, we are working hand-in-hand with government agencies as a prime contractor, running the federal Center for Integrated Health Solutions (CIHS) and contributing to technical assistance on health care financing, among other impactful areas. We’ve taken NatCon – our annual conference – which always had a robust curriculum, to the next level, embracing our role as a thought leader and innovator of change. We respect the differences we have with key players in health care, and we recognize the need to work together on behalf of members and the people they serve.
Your position enables you to have unique insight over the operations, trends, struggles, and successes of thousands of organizations in the behavioral health industry. What are some of most common challenges that you see these organizations facing in today’s business environment?
The biggest challenge is uncertainty. A year ago, we were confident that the Affordable Care Act would continue and that every state would expand Medicaid. Now, the overall uncertainty in health care affects how our members plan services, staffing, and budgeting.
Lack of support for community-based services is a significant challenge for all of us. We recognize the gravity of the addiction crisis and the many people who have untreated mental health problems, and we know the solution is not simply more beds. Beds are a critical part of the continuum of care, but they are only part of the solution.
But it is undeniable that anything with bricks and mortar pays better, and parity is more easily applied. That’s why we’ve seen private equity companies moving into residential addiction treatment centers, eating disorder clinics, and psychiatric hospitals.
States responsible for increasingly complex Medicaid programs have turned to managed care, moving responsibility and risk to a third party. Promised savings too often come from the already slim-to-no-margins of community-based services. The more squeezed community providers are financially, the more difficult it is for them to recruit and retain staff because of painfully low salaries. The result is limited access to what we know are effective community treatments. Too often families are left bearing the burden of caring for loved ones and local police and jails become the people and places of last resort.
We’ve done good things in this country – but we need to do more. We’ve supported behavioral health services for veterans and increased funding for health centers, but nobody has done that for nonprofit, community-based behavioral health organizations. The National Council was an early and vocal advocate of the Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinic (CCBHC) demonstration projects authorized under the Excellence Act, which will align effective practice with adequate payment. But, we don’t provide cancer treatment with demonstration projects, and behavioral health should be no different. We need a movement supporting viable community-based services.
Back in 2008, the National Council brought Mental Health First Aid to the U.S. from Australia, and it quickly became the most impactful health literacy program ever introduced to the American public. The eight-hour course has now taught over a million Americans how to identify, understand, and respond to signs of mental illness and substance use disorders. How do you see this program progressing over the next five years?
Mental Health First Aid continues to grow, and local instructors are building capacity in every community. It is, as we expected, on the way to becoming as common as CPR. There’s no doubt you’re much more likely to see someone having an emotional crisis than you are to witness a heart attack. Not everyone experiencing a mental health challenge needs professional help. Mental Health First Aid teaches us to be good listeners, to know how to give support, and, if needed, to help connect people to appropriate services. But most important, Mental Health First Aid strengthens communities.
Mental Health First Aid is being embraced by law enforcement, by health systems, by schools, and among employers. We’re continually upgrading the content so it’s based on the most recent science, and we’re working on using technology to increase access to training. And research shows not only that the training is effective in helping people help others, but also that instructors are using what they’ve learned to support them in their own personal and professional lives.
Back in April, the National Council of Behavioral Health hosted its NatCon17 Conference in Seattle, where thousands of passionate attendees in the health and human services industry came together to share their ideas and values. What were some of your favorite memories and biggest takeaways from this year’s conference?
My “fireside chat” with Dr. Vivek Murthy, the former U.S. Surgeon General, was amazing. He is a unique individual with tremendous emotional connection to what he is saying. You feel that he’s opening your mind in the kindest, gentlest way.
I also loved the audience’s positive reaction to the song parodies that made fun of the jargon we use. I enjoyed the chance to mix learning with fun, and I’m very flattered that many other conferences have borrowed the idea. We believe that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and we take seriously our responsibility to create a showcase for others to learn from and try to emulate.
In October, The National Council will be hosting Hill Day, which is slated to be the largest behavioral health advocacy event of the year. Could you shed some light on this event and its major goals and objectives?
Hill Day is an incredible opportunity for experts in the field of mental health and addictions to advocate for the people they serve. I expect every single person who has an interest in mental health and addictions to be there! We now have 20 partner organizations and expect more than 700 people to attend, joining together as a unified voice to champion the interests of Americans living with mental illness and/or addiction.
The first day is a policy institute, and we have a full slate of sessions that will both examine the future of health care and provide attendees with the latest advocacy tips. We’ll cap that day with an event on the Hill thanking those who stood up for health care as a right and protected Medicaid.
On the second day, Hill Day attendees have the opportunity to directly speak with officials. They’ll go to Capitol Hill armed with “asks,” including very clear messages around preserving Medicaid as an entitlement, expanding the Excellence Act, and supporting behavioral health services. We’ll address the Surgeon General’s Report and the recommendations of the president’s opioid commission.
But perhaps the most important part of Hill Day is seeing the people – staff, board members, and patients and their families – with whom we work every day. We visit them in their state or have a conference call with them, but to interact with them one-on-one and in their state groups and to channel their excitement – there’s nothing like it. Together, we’re unstoppable. We believe the answers to the questions posed by Hillel the Elder – If not us, who? If not now, when? – are simple: We are the ones! Now is the time! We haven’t a moment to lose.
We’d like to thank Linda for her participation and incredible insight. Make sure to follow Linda and the National Council for Mental Wellbeing on Twitter for more updates. If you’re interested in participating in our interview series, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. This DATIS blog may not be shared or repurposed without permission.