Former Representative Patrick Kennedy again is at the top of the charts with Kennedy Forum II. The son of the late Senator Ted Kennedy, Patrick has emerged as a singular national leader who is urgently seeking fundamental change in our national mental health and addiction calculus.
On June 8, the former Representative hosted an exceptionally memorable gala reception and dinner party at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston for a broad array of political, community, professional, and consumer leaders from the mental health and addiction fields. This gala served to focus attention for a day-long Kennedy Forum Conference in downtown Boston on June 9.
This year’s gala and conference mark the second time that the Kennedy Forum has hosted this prestigious event in Boston. The first were held during the fall of 2013 to mark the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy’s signing of the Community Mental Health Center and Mental Retardation Act of 1963. This bold action by President Kennedy marked the first major reform of mental health during the modern era.
The gala called all of us to action. From Martin Luther King III’s impassioned call for social justice, to actor Wayne Brady’s personal recounting of recovery, to former Speaker Newt Gingrich’s dramatic appeal for a vastly expanded national investment in mental health and addiction, we all heard the clarion call. Kennedy perhaps said it best: “We do not want to purchase lifeboats for the Titanic; we want to change course to avoid the iceberg.”
The Kennedy Forum Conference helped each of us to develop practical strategies we can implement at the national, state, county, and community levels. Kennedy calls these “proof points”: obvious actions that can foster fundamental change.
The conference had three principal agendas: how we can leverage parity to promote whole person care; how we can address the opioid crisis and rampant addiction in our communities; and how we can move mental health concerns onto the global stage through the United Nations and the World Health Organization. In a series of smaller panels and dialogues, these topics were viewed through the lens of emergent technologies, quality and outcomes, school and college behavioral health, service integration and coordination, brain fitness, and progress in implementing parity.
In closing, Kennedy said, in his inimitable way, “Our mission is big and the stakes are clear. We seek to unite the healthcare system, and rally the mental health community around a common set of principles: Fully implement the 2008 parity law, bring business leaders and government agencies together to eliminate issues of stigma, work with providers to guarantee equal access to care, ensure that policymakers have the tools they need to craft better policy, and give consumers a way to understand their rights.” Clearly, each of these challenges is a tall order, but each also is a foundation pillar of necessary change.
On behalf of our entire community, I want to thank former Representative Kennedy for his clear vision, outstanding leadership, and steadfast commitment to improving the mental and addictive health of all Americans. I also want to recognize the very important role played by Bill Emmet, the Executive Director of the Kennedy Forum, and the entire staff of the Forum for hosting an exceptionally excellent event. Our hats are off to each of you.