'Care that is human-centered': 1 executive's hope for mental healthcare

The state of mental health in the U.S. is a top concern for many, including Melissa Eckstein, president of Unity Center for Behavioral Health in Portland, Ore.

 Ms. Eckstein joined Becker's to discuss her top mental health priorities, must-haves in providing care and more. 

Editor's note: Responses have been lightly edited for length and clarity. If you would like to contribute to our next question, please email Paige Haeffele at phaeffele@beckershealthcare.com.

Question: What are your top priorities today? 

 Melissa Eckstein: There are many priorities we’re focused on, but three are particularly essential to our services now: workforce prioritization, re-envisioning the behavioral healthcare model and advocacy.

 1. Workforce: We are prioritizing retaining our current staff and ensuring we are competitive in recruiting future staff. We need to acknowledge that the process of burnout began quite some time ago, and we were not as nimble in addressing the changing healthcare workforce landscape. As leaders, I think it is imperative that we create a safe space for staff to share their struggles and work to bring joy back into the healthcare space. We all went into the field of health to take care of others. 

 2. Re-envisioning the behavioral healthcare model: Our current state is concerning. We will not be able to replace the volume of behavioral healthcare workers that have left the field within the next couple of years. We must address the problem of more efficiently meeting the growing need while also recognizing and responding to the fact that the individual patients' needs have intensified and increased. The intersection of severe, persistent mental illness with chronic houselessness, coupled with substance use, is our core community need here in Oregon. We must challenge ourselves to address these needs from a unified approach, not as siloed agencies and organizations. Strengthening community partnerships, reducing redundancy in our system of care and ensuring our staff are safe to do their work are ways to achieve this priority. 

Advocacy: Record funding has been prioritized for behavioral health on both a state and federal level. It is essential that we continue to advocate for that funding to be used across our state to build out our behavioral health infrastructure for a system of care, crisis services and early, preventative care. We do not speak enough about child and adolescent behavioral health needs, so advocating on the lack of access to care for these patients specifically is needed. Those of us that are privileged enough to have a seat at the tables where these discussions are happening need to ensure we are bringing the voice of our entire behavioral health continuum of care to the table — especially those who are marginalized and underserved.

Q: What projects or initiatives are you most excited by?

ME: Unity Center is one of many community partners involved in Multnomah County's Behavioral Health Emergency Coordination Network, also known as BHECN. Also, in partnership with the city of Portland, BHECN is focused on creating community resources for adults impacted by serious and persistent mental illness, substance use disorder and chronic houselessness. There are many statewide projects now in coordination that are centered around increased access to care. It will be great to see the impact of those collaborative projects over the next one to two years for our community.

Q: How do you see behavioral health evolving in the next two to three years?

ME: There has never been a more challenging or exciting time for the field of behavioral health. I can only dream of seeing more collaborative care models that include a training/education component for our workforce and a system of care in Oregon that is simplified, integrated and human-centered.

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