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'Interesting times' for behavioral healthcare

October 1, 2009
by Brian Albright
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New National Council Chair Sees Opportunity in Adversity

The behavioral healthcare industry will face many challenges in the coming year as states across the country slash their budgets to make up for revenue shortfalls. William Kyles, newly elected chair of the National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare's board of directors, knows that the organization will have its work cut out for it moving forward.

“We have to garner the public and political support, and put into the place the formal mechanism that will allow us to do the job we have promised to do for our citizens,” says Kyles, who is also the president and CEO of Comprehensive Mental Health Services (CMHS) in Independence, Mo. “We're living in a very interesting time for behavioral health, one that presents tremendous challenges and tremendous opportunities.”

William kyles, national council board chair

William Kyles, National Council Board Chair

As chair, Kyles says his first priority will be providing support to the Council's CEO, Linda Rosenberg, and public policy VP Chuck Ingoglia as they work to ensure that their 1,600 members have a place at the table during the ongoing healthcare reform debate.

According to Kyles, the group would like to see a designation for mental health organizations modeled on the Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) program, and is supporting passage of the Community Mental Health Services Improvement Act, which would provide funding for workforce recruitment and retention and grants for co-locating primary and mental health facilities.

“Co-location is a huge issue for us, because our clients are dying about 25 years younger than the general population,” Kyles says. “Right now there is a demonstration grant through SAMHSA that will fund 11 projects across the nation, but that's just a drop in the bucket compared to the needs we have.”

Kyle's interest in mental health and addiction services stems from his own background. A runaway who was homeless on the streets of Kansas City for a time, Kyles spent his teen years at Father Flanagan's famous Boys Town in Omaha, which he describes as “the four best years of my youth. That profoundly shaped my life and my outlook,” Kyles says. “I wasn't always sure exactly what I wanted to do, but I knew I wanted to help other people.”

Kyles received his bachelors in psychology from Creighton University in Omaha, as well as a master's in clinical psychology from the University of Illinois and a master's in public administration from the University of Nebraska. He got his start developing youth programs with the Eastern Nebraska Human Services Agency, a position he was offered after a summer practicum while he was still working on his master's. He then worked for a brief period at the Henderson Community Mental Health Center in Las Vegas.

When Comprehensive came calling, though, Kyles jumped at the chance to return to his home state. “Because of the nature of my upbringing and my experience at Boys Town, there was a disconnect with my family,” Kyles says. “I saw this as an opportunity to reconnect with them.”

Nearly 30 years later, Kyles is still hard at work at Comprehensive, where this year he is focused on the completion of a new mental health center, as well as establishing a mental health court and a telepsychiatry program, and on partnering with other agencies in the community to share resources.

Having always worked in administration, Kyles says that the ability to develop new programs has always appealed to him. “One thing I've always liked is looking at systems and putting systems together,” Kyles says. “You can affect the greatest number of people that way.”

His proudest accomplishments have involved garnering support for behavioral healthcare services, including rescuing an inner city substance abuse program in Kansas City and helping to get new taxes passed to support both mental health and addiction programs.

Kyles says it's important to fight for funding for behavioral healthcare services, especially when times are tough. “We should be part of the recovery,” he says. “Our industry helps hold people together so they can continue to look for a job and to keep their families together. Mental health providers are really part of the solution for this recession.”

Behavioral Healthcare 2009 October;29(9):37