Over the past year, I've blogged here about many well-known societal leaders and what leaders in behavioral healthcare can learn from them. These include the Biblical Joseph, Nelson Mandela, Tutu, Aung San Suu Kyi ("The Lady"), Brandon Marshall, and Pope Francis. More formally, each year this publication, Behavioral Healthcare, selects five Behavioral Healthcare Champions who "reflect the special brand of dedication, courage, inspiration, and excellence that makes the leaders of behavioral health organizations unique."
Aren't recognizing all of these leaders enough, even if none of them are psychiatrists? Why focus on a psychiatrist, given that leadership by psychiatrist of behavioral healthcare systems has diminished over recent decades? And what validity does a selection by a committee of one - me - have?
The simple answer to these questions is that I'm a psychiatrist and think that the broad-based training of psychiatrists still offers unique leadership potential. Moreover, an excellent candidate for a promising system has emerged this past year. My own bias is supported and supplemented by national coverage for his work in two very different states, Connecticut and North Carolina.
That psychiatrist is John Santopietro, M.D. The year of his most notable leadership started on that most tragic day of December 14, 2012. That was the day of the massacre of 26 people, including 20 young children, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. At that time, Dr. Santopietro was President of the Connecticut Psychiatric Society. As such, he had the responsibility to lead the disaster response of psychiatrists. Working 60 hours straight in coordinating 150 volunteer psychiatrists, they provided "therapy by walking around," as Dr. Santopietro called it. He, himself, did not go to the site, wisely recognizing where he was needed most and, moreover, that his subjectivity would be compromised since he had three young boys of his own, aged 11, 7, and 4. For this work, the Connecticut Psychiatric Society honored him with its Service Award, even after he had moved away.