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Are peer-led wellness communities in our future?

March 23, 2011
by Ron Manderscheid, PhD, Executive Director, NACBHDD
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National conference says they're a necessary innovation for behavioral healthcare

Under the smiling spring sky of New Orleans, with jazz accompaniment in the background and a St. Patrick’s Day parade passing by, participants in the 2011 ACMHA Summit deliberated “Disruptive Innovations in the Age of Health Reform.” ACMHA, The College for Behavioral Health Leadership, is recognized internationally for these annual summits, each of which addresses a major concern of the mental health and substance use fields.

The headline from this March 16-18 Summit is clear: Behavioral healthcare needs to develop and implement a disruptive innovation to become an effective player in health reform. Participants resoundingly concurred that this innovation should center on the development of peer-led healthy communities that promote wellness and are accountable for the whole health of members.

The summit opened with a provocative presentation by Paul Keckley, of Deloitte Consulting, who described the event horizon for health reform and the potential role of disruptive innovations in reform. From his point of view as a well informed external observer, Keckley also identified some of the key challenges confronting behavioral healthcare, notably the lack of a coherent message or “value proposition” for society and a weakly defined, weakly understood intervention technology. Finally, Keckley highlighted the importance of data in decision-making, another weak domain for behavioral healthcare.

Thanks to the foresight of summit co-leaders Laura Galbraith of The National Council, and consultant Jeanette Harrison, a series of dialogues based on the input of summit participants and developed through organized group discussions were the highlight of the summit. It is out of these dialogues that the summit’s focus on community wellness emerged. The products of different groups clearly were synergistic.
For example, the evolving role of provider organizations in community Accountable Care Organizations, as well as the role of technology, human resources, and quality measurement, can each contribute to the development of a peer-led wellness community.

The dialogues were very engaging and motivating. They reflect efforts by summit participants to themselves form meaningful communities. They also are a ringing endorsement of the potential power of a community-based wellness model. Hence, the summit process was itself a micro prototype of this disruptive innovation.

Other important summit talks were given by Chuck Ingoglia, of The National Council, and Dale Jarvis, a private consultant, who examined how healthcare reform is evolving in key states. The summit's final presentation was by Pamela Hyde, SAMHSA Administrator, who showed how the Agency is responding to a vastly changed political, economic, and reform environment.

Always a favorite, the annual ACMHA Awards Ceremony and luncheon honored four field leaders:

  • Paolo Delvecchio of SAMHSA received the Timothy J. Coakley Prize for Behavioral Healthy Leadership,
  • Trina Dutta of SAMHSA received the King Davis Award for Emerging Leadership in Promoting Diversity and Reducing Disparities
  • Dick Dougherty received the Barton Distinguished Fellow Award, named for an ACMHA founder, and,
  • David Lewis received the Saul Feldman Lifetime Achievement Award.

For more details, read the related story, ACMHA names four 2011 award winners.

Recognized at the same time were three graduates of the ACMHA Mentorship Program: Brie Reimann, Leigh Fisher, and Jennifer Padrone. At a preconference leadership soiree, Colette Croze, the ACMHA President-Elect, led an informative dialogue on the ACMHA mentorship program, including the plans for the coming year. She especially thanked Tom Trabin and Richard Van Horn, who led the mentorship program during 2010-11.

In reflecting on this landmark Summit, one can be very heartened by the capacity of some of the best minds in the field to develop a disruptive innovation that not only reflects the very best values held by all of us, but also is so compatible with the direction and tenor of National Health Reform.

For some time, we have recognized the critical role that our own communities can play in reducing the risk of disease and in promoting resilience. These concepts have been systematized by Sir Michael Marmot and David Satcher into a Model of the Social and Physical Determinants of Health. This new model recognizes the need to address health and health care disparities by promoting community equity. The model has been adopted broadly in the UK and in the U.S. Healthy People 2020 system, and it is an underpinning of the Affordable Care Act.

Going forward, it seems very clear that we need to develop the peer-led wellness community and promote broader national discussion about it both within and outside the behavioral health field. This new chapter promises to be as exciting and as stimulating as the first. I am looking forward to participating in it with great enthusiasm.