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Rosenberg: ‘High tech meets high touch’

May 5, 2014
by Shannon Brys, Associate Editor
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Linda Rosenberg

As the 2014 National Council for Behavioral Health (National Council) conference opened Monday, those in attendance were reminded not only of what changes need to occur in the field, but also of the accomplishments made over the past decade.

Linda Rosenberg, President and CEO of National Council, quoted Bill Gates in the morning plenary session: “We always overestimate the change that occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten. Don’t let yourself be lulled into inaction.”

She used this quote to point out that the organization and those in the behavioral healthcare field have not been “lulled into inaction.” Comparing National Council ten years ago with the organization today, she noted that ten years ago there were 700 member organizations, while today there are 2,200. The conference ten years ago had 1,000 attendees, while this year’s conference in Washington D.C. has more than 4,000. By the end of summer, National Council plans to announce its merger with the State Association of Addiction Services (SAAS).

Other progress that has been made includes the passage of parity and the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which allows full inclusion in healthcare. But among these items, legislation merely “sets the table,” explained Rosenberg. “With equality comes entry into the competitive fray of the healthcare industry,” she added.

The organizations that will survive and thrive in the behavioral healthcare field are ones that will “skillfully blend high tech and high touch,” she told the audience.

‘High tech’

Over the next ten years, it is expected that technology will seep into all areas of the field it has not yet covered. However, it’s more than just a story of technology. “It’s a story in which technology meets humanity, a story in which we think like a scientist but act like a humanist,” she explained. The goal is for Behavioral Health Centers of Excellence to be places where high tech and high touch meet, and where people always come first.

The field has learned that technology, and the science that underlies it, extends the humanity of professionals – creates the ability to provide care anytime, anywhere. Science, as Rosenberg explains it, is on our side. Science has helped prove that mental illness is not a character flaw and that addiction is not a moral failure. Additionally, it has been shown in numerous research studies that addiction is a disease that changes the brain.

Although a debate exists around whether it’s a choice the first time someone tries an addictive substance, Rosenberg still presses on for support and services for all individuals in need. She touched on statistics briefly:

·        Since 1980, 3.3 million individuals in the United States have died of addiction, compared to the 600,000 that have died from AIDS in that period.

·        Individuals with addictions are almost six times as likely to attempt suicide yet only one in ten people receive treatment.

“We don’t withhold treatment from a person with diabetes because his choices may have contributed to his illness. When it comes to diabetes, heart disease or cancer, we stick with people and we offer treatments that stick,” Rosenberg emphasized. “There are no 30-day diabetes programs and they don’t have graduation ceremonies.”

‘High touch’

She stressed that residential treatment, housing, medication and 12-Step programs all have a role in recovery and capacity must be available in every community. Rosenberg noted that as she visits treatment centers across the country and observes the work being done and the successes that have occurred while helping people recover from addictions, mental illness, and even serious trauma, she says to herself that this is not rocket science. Yet, it is far more complex – it is about people and relationships.

An example of this is the assertive community treatment (ACT) program which exists throughout the country. Rosenberg noted a specific ACT program at CPC Behavioral Healthcare in New Jersey. In this program, “Staff members do psychiatric intakes at Burger King and on the boardwalk. They don’t think twice about teaching someone to fry an egg or clean their house,” she explained. “An ACT team is the epitome of high touch.”

But, she added, high touch is more than figuring out what’s wrong with people, it’s about building on what’s right. Meeting clients where they are and attending to their specific needs, wants, and talents is important. This will allow them to grow and thrive in their own way and find a path of recovery that is truly meaningful.

Rosenberg also spoke about funding and added that National Council will continue to grow the Substance Abuse Treatment and Prevention Block Grant because the current statistic that 90 percent of individuals with substance use disorders go without care is unacceptable.

She also hopes Congress will pass the Behavioral Health IT Act because “high tech makes high touch possible.” Additionally, she believes the field deserves to receive the meaningful dollars that other sectors in healthcare receive.

“Now that the laws are set, it’s time to not only provide the care, but improve the care, because we are the only ones who will,” Rosenberg said.