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As a Platinum Partner for the National Council for Mental Wellbeing, innovaTel has the opportunity to work closely with the organization that leads national advocacy for mental health and substance use treatment organizations. . And with that close partnership comes the chance to collaborate with president and CEO Chuck Ingoglia, an industry leader who brings more than 28 years of professional experience to the table while advocating on behalf of the organization’s 3,400 members and the 10 million individuals they serve.
Our recent conversation with him gave us a chance to dive into pressing industry issues, look ahead at what’s to come and discuss opportunities that may help improve access to care.
Q: National Council recently changed its name. Would you like to discuss the reasons behind that change and the genesis of the organization’s new name?
A: We’ve known for a while that we’ve needed to do a brand refresh. But we wanted to take an opportunity to step back and think about our name itself. We realized throughout the history of our organization, since its founding in 1969, our name had always tried to describe who our members were and we thought we had an interesting opportunity to change that conversation to focus on why they do what they do. Our new name, National Council for Mental Wellbeing, really focuses on the outcome. What is the goal of the work our members do in providing mental health and substance use services so that people can thrive, even if they are living with a mental health or substance use condition.
One of the things that struck me throughout my career is these illnesses have the potential to really inhibit people’s opportunity, and by focusing on wellbeing and thriving, that’s what our members are trying to do — give people back that hope, that purpose and that potentiality. That’s what our new name is all about.
Q: What are the biggest challenges you see for mental health and substance use treatment as you look ahead to the coming months and years?
A: In any crisis there’s also opportunity. The last 18 months or so, since the beginning of COVID, one of the most remarkable things is that it’s normalized conversations about wellbeing, including mental wellbeing. People are talking about mental health and substance use in new ways. That’s brought incredible attention and so we see the numbers of people experiencing mental duress and that’s also attracted a lot of interest in terms of new investments from Congress, from private equity, new companies moving into this space — and hopefully what that will lead to over time is not just temporary investments, but long-term investments.
The model we have been promoting for years, that mental health and substance use should be treated the same way as physical health conditions, is parity. And that parity should be experienced across all aspects of the system, including the safety net. And that’s what Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics, or CCBHCs, are all about. We’ve seen incredible, historic investments in CCBHCs and that’s created a momentum, which I know will lead to continued expansion. At the end of the day, we want a CCBHC in every community. We want a place where people know they can go. Our momentum has created an opportunity to accomplish that goal.
Here’s why that’s important. Just a few weeks ago, I got a call from the wife of mayor of a major metropolitan area who was looking for a provider for a friend in South Dakota. What followed was an incredible game of phone tag trying to find a provider for someone thousands of miles away.
We shouldn’t have to do that. There should be a place in every community for everyone. The grim reality is we don’t have that now, but we do have an opportunity to create that infrastructure. Creating this network of CCBHCs is so important because we need to give people answers. It can’t just be later or maybe or never. We have to respond to what people need.
Q: What type of impact could the federal expansion grants have on the mental health and substance use healthcare landscape in the coming years?
A: I’ve been working in this policy arena for a long time, and I’ve never seen the kind of investments we’ve seen in the past year. We still need more, and we need them to be sustained, and we’re working to do that. But what’s most exciting, is this notion of comprehensive coordinated care with an accountable entity, such as a CCBHC, is catching the imagination of Congress, of county commissioners, of local law enforcement, judges and advocates. And we need to continue to build on that momentum.
Everybody knows someone who is struggling. The unfortunate thing about the opioid epidemic is it has touched so many people. The positive side is we’ve had so many conversations about access to substance use treatment and prevention and recovery supports than ever before and the same thing is happening now with mental health because of COVID.
Q: Regulatory changes as a result of COVID-19 allowed for increased flexibility for telehealth. Do you anticipate that to continue? Will the National Council advocate for that?
A: We have been long time advocates for telehealth, even before COVID. We’ve participated in lots of coalitions and have led efforts to enact policy and regulatory change to enable telehealth. COVID brought more change in a short period of time than we ever thought possible. The trick is going to be sustaining that momentum.
We’re very involved with different congressional offices advising on legislation. There’s a lot of interest, but the legislative process tends to be incremental in nature and I would imagine that’s what we’re going to see here. My guess, it’s just a guess, is we will see short-term extensions of current flexibilities with an interest in continuing to evaluate those to make sure they’re actually working. Certainly, what we’re hearing from clinics is that both their clinicians and consumers are fine with telehealth. InnovaTel has really led the discussion around a hybrid model of care and I think that’s going to emerge both for mental health and substance use as it will for the rest of healthcare.
Look at how technology has changed every aspect of our life. I never go to a bank anymore. I want something, I go on Amazon and it’s here tomorrow. Why should our healthcare be any different? Many of us have those kinds of expectations.
Telehealth is a mode of delivery. It’s not a different service and that’s also really important to keep in mind. It’s just a different way of interacting.
Q: What industry innovations have caught your attention in recent months?
A: We have figured out all kinds of innovative ways to engage patients where they are, whether that’s mobile medication delivery or injection clinics. I would love to see how we can maintain that flexibility. I was on the phone last week with a harm reduction organization in Maine and they now do mail order harm reduction. Necessity is the mother of invention – how do we keep some of that? How do we continue to meet people where they are and when they need it as opposed to our schedule? I hope that mindset continues.
During COVID, clinics went from virtually no telehealth to complete telehealth. They went from no tech enablement to complete tech enablement. I also appreciate the flexibility and creativity people embraced during COVID with understanding the patient population and limitations, like the clinic that had patients drive up and use an iPad. I just love that innovation.
Q: What initiatives is National Council focused on at the moment?
A: Beyond CCBHC expansions, we’re focused on telehealth flexibilities and we’re very focused on workforce and what we can do from a policy perspective.
Is there any legislation or incentives that will help with workforce shortages and how can we engage with states differently to reduce some of the administrative burden? We’re going to be launching a large workforce initiative soon.
And when it comes to our member special interest groups, we have a number of them focused on different populations, such as LGBTQ, older adults, children’s issues — and we’re launching a new one on criminal justice and another for people who practice in rural areas.
And we’re focused on our ability as an industry to ensure we can respond once 988 is implemented. We need to make sure we have capacity. Over time, we want to make sure people know where they can call if they’re having a mental health emergency and that we have capacity to respond.
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