Thoughts from NatCon 2016: Finding Our Path at the Crossroads

Every year the National Council for Behavioral Health hosts an annual gathering of behavioral health professionals from around the country. Similar to the 2015 NatCon, this year’s conference was inspiring and I left the event with an acute sense of change. Clearly the behavioral health world is finding its place in the larger healthcare system. We may not have achieved parity to the fullest extent, and recognition of the value of behavioral health providers may not be fully appreciated yet, but we clearly have arrived at the doorstep of change and we are crossing that threshold. As evident among the conversations with the attendees, the healthcare world is acknowledging the impact behavioral health issues have on physical health outcomes and is recognizing the need to address a person holistically, without silos. Yes, there are many issues to work through, both financial and programmatic, but I feel a sense of promise.

The conversations and workshops at NatCon reinforced expectations that will be placed on providers in the year ahead. Mental health and substance abuse programs are being seen in a different light, and we need to continue our focus on true parity, evidence-based practices, real information exchange and interoperability at both government and provider levels to achieve greater success. But as providers, we also need to continue to understand our business models and be able to “show” the value of what we do as a system, and more importantly, demonstrate the value we provide at an individual service level. It is cliché to say, but we are at a crossroads of doing this work. There are and will continue to be, new initiatives and new efforts nationally, at a state level, and locally in your community. There are many issues, including dual eligible individuals, reimbursement levels, regulatory stifling, unfunded mandates and many more issues that we must tackle, but for me, I see these challenges as opportunities to learn from each other and build on our successes. I’ll be on the road over the next few months sharing some ideas on how we can continue to provide recovery-oriented care that keeps our clients at the center of all we do, and I hope you’ll join me at either a conference or an upcoming webinar to share your ideas as well.