Where 6 mental health leaders are placing their focus in 2023

Legislators, national organizations and companies worldwide have acknowledged the growing mental health crisis.

From a hiring campaign to community partnerships, here is what six industry leaders are focusing on in 2023. 

Editor's note: Responses were edited lightly for clarity and brevity.

Q: What is your organization's focus in regard to behavioral healthcare going into 2023?


Terri Coyle, Vice President of Behavioral Health at St. John’s Episcopal Hospital (New York City): Behavioral health needs across the country and state continue to expand and we want to ensure that our investment in behavioral health services aligns with the needs of our community. We are expanding crisis services as we work with the state's mental health office to build out and license a Comprehensive Psychiatric Emergency Program. CPEPs are 911 receiving facilities for psychiatric crises, open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, providing psychiatric triage and evaluation, full psychiatric assessment and extended observation beds for those in psychiatric crisis. As part of the CPEP, EHS will also establish a psychiatric mobile crisis team that will work with the CPEP team, community providers and the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to respond to potential psychiatric crises within the community and connect these individuals to appropriate outpatient or emergency care services. 

Our second area of focus will be on child and adolescent behavioral health. The past few years have delivered a surge in child/ adolescent behavioral health needs and we want to ensure that we are meeting those needs as well as providing preventive services. Our Community Mental Health Center is being relocated to a bigger, more modern space that will allow us to offer family peer support services, care coordination, psychiatric and psychological assessments and individual and family counseling all in one location to ensure that families receive the wrap-around support they may need. 

Additionally, we are also focused on prevention through identification and intervention of children in our pediatric practices that may be at risk. We currently embed clinicians in the pediatric primary care practices as part of our adoption of collaborative care model but in 2023, EHS will pursue grant funding for a Healthy Steps program which is a nationwide evidenced based model that provides early childhood development support to families where they are most likely to access it — the pediatric primary care office. With these initiatives , the CPEP and the expansion of child and adolescent services, EHS is committed to responding to both those in our community who are suffering and in crisis and also investing in the structures and programs that contribute to the strength and resilience of the families of the Rockaways.


Laurie Gill. Cabinet Secretary of the South Dakota Department of Social Services: Over the last two legislative sessions, Gov. [Kristi] Noem and the Department of Social Services have supported the development and expansion of regional behavioral health centers. South Dakotans who are experiencing a behavioral health crisis are often met with law enforcement or EMS responses instead of stabilization services. Without comprehensive regional mental health support in place, individuals in mental health crises are often involuntarily committed to inpatient psychiatric hospitals, when they could be served in a less restrictive setting closer to their home and community. 

Gov. Noem's recommended budget for State Fiscal Year 2024 includes $5,635,581 in ongoing funding to continue investing in regional behavioral health centers that have completed construction and are operational.


Don Mordecai, MD. National Leader for Mental Health and Wellness at Kaiser Permanente (Oakland, Calif.): Kaiser Permanente will continue to focus on improving the lives of our members by delivering evidence-based, outcomes-driven mental health and addiction care in the right setting at the right time. In 2023, we will continue to reframe the dialogue around mental health and addiction by encouraging a more open, proactive and positive approach to treatment and recovery.

We will focus on building an overall stronger and equitable mental and emotional foundation among our members and within our communities by continuing our aggressive clinician hiring campaign while training the next generation of diverse clinicians, including our Mental Health Scholars Academy program; reducing mental health stigma through innovative initiatives like Presence of Mind, raising awareness of and decreasing stigma around substance use disorders; and integrating our digital therapeutic tool capabilities such as emotional support coaching via the Ginger app, which we recently made available to our members at no cost.


Erika Saunders, MD. Penn State College of Medicine Psychiatry Department Chair, Clinical Co-director, Addiction Center for Translation, Director, Mood Disorder Program: Our focus is on access to services. We are working on [providing] easier access to services across a continuum of care [by] rolling out consultation methods like e-consult and tele-education models, in which specialists and primary care providers discuss treatment based on cases and developing services integrated in primary care and expanding telehealth. [This] successfully treat[s] most patients quickly in primary care … which then opens access to specialty care for more difficult-to-treat illnesses. Additionally, we are working to ensure higher levels of care such as partial hospital programs and inpatient programs are as accessible from the emergency department as soon as possible, so patients can get into the right treatment setting. 


Michelle Schafer. Regional Vice President and System Clinical Program Chair of Behavioral Health, SSM Health (St. Louis): Addressing the behavioral health needs of the communities we serve is part of our system strategy focus over the next several years.

First, [w]e want to be able to identify the behavioral health needs of our patients as early as possible [by integrating mental health services at] a majority of our primary care physician offices by the end of 2024.

Secondly, we are focused on [developing] telehealth services. [We] are looking at opportunities to launch pre-screening services that patients can access before they even go to an emergency room … and evaluating other ways to use telehealth as an access point for patients.

Thirdly, we are focused on partnerships and how we can lean in to enhance care in our communities. There is a significant behavioral health crisis for children and adults across the country [that we] need to work together to address. We need to come together and understand how to fill gaps, use dollars and resources differently and create systems of care. 

Finally, we are focused on providing care in areas where there is health disparity and inequity.  We are doing this again by partnering with groups that might seem nontraditional — whether it is educational institutions, housing agencies, law enforcement agencies or others. We want to reach individuals where they live and make it easier for them to get access to services in their neighborhoods. 


Jeremy Williams, BSN, RN. Director of Psychiatric Services for St. Patrick Hospital (Missoula, Mont.): Providence St. Patrick Hospital will focus on advancing behavioral health initiatives during the 2023 Montana legislative session in support of increased funding for expansion and implementation of crisis services within our communities. In addition to our statewide advocacy work, we continue to work locally with our Missoula Public School system to expand adolescent outpatient programs and Missoula City/County to maintain the Mobile Crisis Response Unit.


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