Last week, the National Association for Rural Mental Health (NARMH) hosted its annual convening for the field. The venue--sunny, surfside San Diego--did not disappoint, as the conference told the difficult and often wrenching story of rural mental health in today’s America.
Dennis Mohatt, conference chair, opened the event with a challenge to all participants: Use this opportunity to renew your friendships, recharge your batteries, and recommit yourself to rural mental health. He emphasized that we need every single one of you in the field if we are to meet today’s growing issues.
Three major urgent challenges dominated the presentations: the plight of our rural veterans who have returned from Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria; the large and growing problem of homelessness in rural America, particularly for persons with behavioral health conditions; and the crisis in our rural behavioral health workforce.
Conference presentations also documented the scope of our emerging solutions to these great issues. Efforts range from the growing implementation of peer support and telemedicine, to integrated care partnerships with primary care, to community collaborations, to enhanced care and outcomes data. Indeed, great creativity has ensued from necessity in all of these areas.
This year’s awards were particularly noteworthy. Rick Peterson, a current board member who has served as board president and conference chair on multiple occasions, received the prestigious Victor I. Howery Memorial Award for lifetime service; Alan Morgan, CEO of the National Rural Health Association (NRHA), received the annual Going to Bat Award for his strong support of rural mental health; Ray Droby, a renowned direct service provider in rural Alaska, received the Ann Schumacher Rural Clinical Practice Award for his contributions; and Clint Malarchuk, former National Hockey League goaltender and rancher, received the Rural Arts Award for his personal journey toward recovery. Special recognitions also were provided to Lori Irvine, board secretary, and Dennis Mohatt, for their contributions to NARMH.
A first for the NARMH conference was a joint plenary session with the California Institute for Behavioral Health Services (CIBHS) and the California Behavioral Health Directors Association (CBHDA). This session explored recent national developments around proposed health care legislation and related developments in our rural counties and communities. Alan Morgan provided a national update, which became grist for a reactor panel and the joint audience. Clearly, we must remain very vigilant about any national proposals from the Administration or the Congress, and these proposals always must be viewed through the lens of their potential impact on our rural communities and the health, mental health, and wellbeing of rural families.
Every NARMH conference is very much like a large family reunion to celebrate an important milestone. All participants feel like family. They are exceptionally welcomed in a very warm way, embraced like a long-unseen relative, and enticed vigilantly to return next year. No other conference shares this same ambience.
Our hats are off to Dennis Mohatt, Paul Mackie, immediate-past NARMH Board President, the conference planning committee, and the entire NARMH community for an outstanding event. Without any doubt, our rural mental health community is fully energized and ready to respond to the issues facing us today.
I do want to attend again next year!