We are adding two elected board members to the board for the 2023-2026 term. Candidates were asked to reply to a series of questions. Please review each candidate’s response and vote for two candidates using the button below. Voting will close at 3 PM MDT on Friday, October 14th!
1. Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) question: DEI is a strategic and valued priority for CFHA Board of Directors. Please answer the following questions to the best of your ability.
- How do you define Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion?
- From your vantage point, in what ways do you see DEI challenges at CFHA?
- If you had the chance to help CFHA become more agile with DEI skills, what would that look like?
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) is an incredibly complicated and nuanced set of priorities and points of focus. The risk with DEI is that we become complacent, thinking we “solved it”; then the critical importance of DEI becomes diluted and ineffective, as more individuals and organizations are focusing on this as a priority, and content with “boxes checked”. DEI is about representation, about a systemic and systematic focus on issues of equity and inclusion, about voices at the table not just adding information but as critical decision makers. DEI needs to be fully embraced at every level, with visual representation of people, visual representation in practice (e.g., noting pronouns or preferred name on intake forms), representation in sponsored activities and didactic experiences, etc. And perhaps most importantly, DEI is about those without personal experience listening more than talking, and starting to gain insight not just into their own personal prejudices, but into the historical systems that have fueled exclusion and prejudice for people of color, LGBTQ+, gender inequality, etc.
To truly move forward with DEI, it needs to be imbued throughout every activity in which we engage. We might consider adding DEI as a required section to every presentation. That is not to say that DEI needs to be a core component of the content, but that by requesting a thoughtful consideration of DEI issues, we would be reinforcing the importance through actions in addition to words. We might also consider reaching out to minority owned organizations, and proactively work to expand diversity of membership with those who might not otherwise be aware of CFHA.
Finally, if we have not already, we should consider hiring paid consultants to partner in an extended approach to systemic changes to make DEI a core component of not just our mission and values, but also our identity as an organization.
- Health equity and integrated care: Subject matter and/or policy experience
- Building cross-sector partnerships: strategies to grow membership beyond behavioral health clinicians and to include physicians, non-clinical members, and other medical team members (Pharmacists, clinic managers, medical assistants)
Health equity in integrated care is almost impossible without cross-sector partnerships. There is no doubt, both anecdotally and with supporting data, that integrated care is the key to the future of healthcare. At the core of this is the need to meet individuals where, when, and how they are ready and able to be seen. Integrated care engenders a truly person-first mentality, with a “no wrong door” approach. That said, far less focus has been put on “reverse integration”, bringing medical services into behavioral health organizations. Yet this form of integration is critically important, for two reasons in particular: 1. Individuals often think of their behavioral health treatment as their “health home”, coming to therapy, psychiatry, MAT, etc., while not attending medical appointments, and 2. Individuals with serious mental illness are often complicated and difficult medical patients to treat; embedding medical into a behavioral health organization provides a level of knowledge shared between both medical and behavioral health staff to most effectively treat shared patients.
In recent years at Merakey, we have recognized the need for reverse integration. The clients that we serve are at an exponentially greater risk of various physical health diagnoses, including Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs), in particular at our Methadone clinic. Noting this need, our team engaged in partnership efforts, building relationships with the behavioral health MCO (CBH), physical health MCO (Keystone), and experts in STIs (Dr. Stacey Trooskin with a local FQHC). We recognized the need for collaboration, for everything from training and medical knowledge, to sustainability through reimbursement, and streamlined clinical processes (e.g., as a result of the MCO partnership, Philadelphia now has a system whereby blood draws for HCV automatically include a reactive RNA test, a test that previously required a wait and an extra blood draw, often resulting in clients lost to care). We have now successfully treated and cured many individual patients with Hepatitis C, providing screening, testing, and treatment in the same location and concurrently with the administration of their Methadone treatment. We have been able to meet the needs of a client population that attends services on a daily basis, and bring testing and treatment to them, when and where they are able to be seen.
Prior to my work with Merakey, I worked at Cherokee Health Systems, bringing integrated care to a rural health clinic in Alcoa, TN, and as part of the startup team in an Obstetrics/GYN clinic in an urban setting in Knoxville, TN. Following my work with Cherokee, I worked as the first Behavioral Health Consultant (BHC) for the Philadelphia Department of Public Health (PDPH), eventually becoming the first Director of Integrated Behavioral Health for PDPH. Under this new program, we rolled out Suboxone from within primary care, and hired full-time BHCs for all of the 8 PDPH clinics in the Philadelphia area. Finally, I worked closely with The Health Federation of Philadelphia, as the lead clinician, providing training and support, both clinical and administrative, to the FQHCs throughout the greater Philadelphia area.
- In addition to your one issue identified above, what else would you consider advocating for CFHA’s future?
In addition to the above, I would love to see CFHA become even more involved in policy-level issues. Integration is often difficult due to sustainability issues. Reimbursement is often noted as the problem, though in reality, reimbursement issues often stem from outdated or inefficient regulations and guidelines. In order to fully move forward with integration at every level (primary care, specialty clinics, behavioral health organizations, social services organizations, law enforcement, etc.), policy-level barriers need to be addressed on a wider scale.
What makes you uniquely suited to represent our membership on the Board of Directors?
My name is Jennifer Thomas, and I’m a family medicine physician at Morris Hospital in Morris, IL. I started with Morris Hospital in 2010 right after finishing family medicine residency. Over the years as a primary care provider, I often found myself feeling frustrated that my patients’ behavioral health needs were not being met, and numerous barriers stood in the way. I often thought to myself, “There HAS TO be a better way of doing this.”
In 2018, I joined a primary care psychiatry fellowship through UC Irvine, which was designed to give PCPs more training and comfort in diagnosing and treating BH conditions. The fellowship gave me a whole new view on ways to incorporate BH care into the primary care space. The fellowship leaders, many of them dual-trained psychiatrists/primary care physicians, embodied the philosophy that the primary care workforce is uniquely positioned to help address the behavioral health crisis facing many of our communities. Rather than hiring more psychiatrists as a solution and hitting the “refer” button, we ourselves could BE the solution. By re-tooling our primary care teams, we could deliver integrated BH in our current medical practices. I also learned about the Collaborative Care Model and reached out to the UW AIMS Center. With a bit of “right place-right time” luck, my health system got to participate in two of the UW AIMS Center’s CoCM research studies: the MInD-I project, which was a perinatal depression research study; and also the CHAMP study- Collaborating to Heal Addiction and Mental Health in Primary Care.
Thanks to participating in the CHAMP study, I’ve learned a lot about treating patients with OUD and found this work extremely rewarding. My newfound interest in learning about SUD led me to pursue addiction medicine board certification through the American Board of Preventative Medicine in the fall of 2021. I work in a small, rural primary care practice in northern Illinois. The opioid crisis has touched so many lives of the people in my community. Many of my patients are grandparents raising their grandchildren, having an adult child who is incarcerated or has died of on opioid overdose. I truly believe that empowering primary care providers to screen for and treat OUD will be a fundamental piece of healthcare delivery transformation that can help us overcome the opioid crisis.
The Collaborative Care Model has been a true “game changer” in my practice and in my health system. I now serve at Morris Hospital’s Medical Director of Integrated Behavioral Health. By embracing the principles of whole person care, I do feel that Integrated Care is making great strides in helping heal some of the “brokenness” in the American healthcare system. My passion for Integrated Care has also led to some exciting and surprising career paths I never would have thought possible just a few years ago. This fall, I will be serving as a Clinical Advisor for the American Medical Association’s BHI Immersion Program. I’ll have the great honor of coaching a cohort of physicians as they begin their own Integrated Care journeys.
I would be honored to help spread the word about Integrated Care and CFHA to members of the healthcare provider community. I am thrilled to see diversity, equity and inclusion as valued priorities for the CFHA. To me, DEI means creating a culture where everyone feels welcome and empowered to bring their true self to the workplace every day, regardless of our sex, race, ethnicity or sexual orientation. DEI means celebrating our rich variety of backgrounds and experiences that ultimately make us a better workforce and a stronger team. CFHA embodies the values of diversity, equity and inclusion. CFHA welcomes all members, regardless of our specialty or guild, and attempts to remove barriers that have prevented our groups from communicating and working together in the past. What better way to live the values of DEI than by creating a professional home for all those who are passionate about whole person care? I would be honored to help carry on that mission of DEI at CFHA.