Opinion: Building for the future of behavioral health care

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When I moved back to Missouri to join Burrell Behavioral Health four years ago, I did so amid a changing behavioral health landscape. Thanks to the openness of those with lived experience, as well as the hard work of organizations and providers across the nation, mental health and substance-use advocates were beginning to challenge the stigma that these topics had carried for years. People were talking and, perhaps as importantly, the country was starting to listen. I am proud to say that over the last four years this conversation has only progressed, and Burrell is helping to lead it – and during this month in particular.

September is Suicide Prevention Month as well as Recovery Month, which makes it one of the most poignant times of the year for Burrell as we further our mission of forming meaningful connections and inspiring hope in our community. Below are some of the topics you may hear about this month.

On Sept. 23, Burrell will host a virtual Suicide Prevention Summit where we will formally introduce a new community program, ONE, or Our Networks Engaged, which will create a network of businesses, organizations and nonprofits to create and share suicide prevention information and programming. A number of partners – including SRC Holdings Corp., OACAC and Community Partnership of the Ozarks’ Suicide Prevention Coalition – have already signed on, along with scores of individuals. We’re excited to plant this seed of honest conversations and suicide prevention best practices in our communities.

Just this month, our Be Well Community and the Burrell Foundation introduced the Be Well Community Movement, brought to life by custom-painted bells – decorated by local artists – that will be installed at participating local businesses, including the Community Foundation of the Ozarks and OACAC. The bell began as a symbol of compassionate mental health in the 1960s, when Mental Health America began melting down the shackles and chains previously used at asylums and hospitals across the country and turning them into bells as a symbol of hope.

We are extremely proud to announce a significant investment in the Burrell team. It’s no secret that workforce is a key issue for many businesses, in many industries, right now. And nowhere is this conversation more critical than in the health care sector, including behavioral health. That’s why, early in September, Burrell was proud to announce to its entire 1,800-plus staff that we are raising our minimum hourly pay to $15 (previously $11.50), with commensurate raises for a number of positions in similarly positioned roles. This move is intended to keep Burrell competitive in recruiting and maintaining a skilled workforce in the new landscape. But even more so, it reflects behavioral health care workers’ essential  role in the communities we serve. Compassionate, skilled care has never been more important.

Finally, Burrell continues to advocate at the state and national levels for mental health and addiction priorities. We anticipate this next Missouri legislative session will include significant investment in behavioral health infrastructure, including Gov. Mike Parson’s priorities of additional 24/7 crisis centers – for which our Behavioral Crisis Center in Springfield is serving as a statewide model – and support for law enforcement and first responders. On the national level, the Excellence in Mental Health Treatment Act of 2021, currently introduced in both the U.S. Senate and House, would expand the Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinic  model beyond the eight original pilot states. The pilot included Missouri and made much of our growth and innovation over the last four years possible. This is legislation Burrell heartily endorses and calls on all Missouri legislators to support or co-sponsor so our neighboring states may experience the same benefits.

I truly believe this is just the beginning. As the community mental health center, Burrell is committed to creating access and providing timely, compassionate care to every single person we are privileged to serve. In the coming months, we anticipate some exciting expansion announcements that will allow us to serve more people in Missouri and beyond.

Burrell truly is committed to becoming a regional behavioral health network that invests in its team and communities. We will be a national leader for the next phase of honest conversations around behavioral health. I can’t wait to see what we’re talking about four years from now.

C.J. Davis is president and CEO of Burrell Behavioral Health. He can be reached at cj.davis@burrellcenter.com.