Former U.S. Congressman Patrick Kennedy is building a “Community of Mental Health,” by making connections that are needed for mental health to be fully integrated into our understanding of overall health. To achieve this goal, the son of U.S. Senator Edward M. Kennedy has created the Kennedy Forum—so named to evoke the memory of President John F. Kennedy and employ the family name to inspire, motivate, and unite advocates and policymakers around a shared vision of what healthcare should be. The Kennedy Forum is focused on the development, implementation, and dissemination of mental health and addiction policy and standards—with the first order of business being the implementation of the new mental health and addiction parity law.
The Kennedy Forum is providing this leadership by convening people with diverse interests and perspectives in a variety of formats including one-on-one meetings, national summits, locally focused seminars and forums being held venues as diverse as Chicago and Cape Cod. The goal of the Forum is to help shape the service delivery and payment system of the future—one that encourages prevention, early intervention, and coordinated care for all who need it.
The premier meeting of the Kennedy Forum was held at the Kennedy Library in Boston in the fall of 2013 (the second such meeting will be held in June 2015). Earlier this summer, a series of small gatherings took place at the Kennedy compound in Hyannis Port, on Cape Cod in Massachusetts. A meeting is scheduled for November 13 in Chicago to address local issues. Part of that meeting will address prevention and early intervention in mental health, including the traumatic impact of community violence on the city’s children.
The gatherings at the the family home on Cape Cod brought together leaders from a variety of fields to share experiences and expertise and learn from each other, often for the first time. Here are several examples of participants who illustrate different perspectives on improving health in the broadest sense of the word:
- Judge Steve Leifman of Miami-Dade County, a long-time advocate for effective and available treatment for individuals with mental illnesses who end up in the criminal justice system. He has led the Criminal Mental Health Project in the county that has had success in diverting individuals with serious mental illness and co-occurring substance use disorders from the criminal justice system into community-based programs to receive treatment and supports. Recently, he has become involved in a project of IBM and Otsuka Pharmaceutical Co., Ltd. to improve care coordination in the mental health community and reduce state psychiatric hospitalizations and re-incarcerations with the potential to save substantial public funds and improve outcomes.
- Mike Thompson, a principal in the New York practice of PricewaterhouseCoopers and co-chair of the Northeast Business Group on Mental Health (NEBGH)/National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) New York City Metro Workplace Mental Health Summit. Thompson is part of the NAMI New York Chapter “I will listen” campaign (described in an October 1 New York Times article). A Philadelphia “I will listen” event featured him, along with Patrick Kennedy and Arthur Evans, the city’s commissioner of the Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual Disabilities. The campaign includes videos that aim to put a human face on mental illness and empower individuals to help rather than look away. In one of the videos, Thompson talks movingly about the suicide of his brother. In his work with business groups, he provides leadership on how businesses can help individuals and their families in the workplace when experiencing challenges as a result of mental health problems or substance use disorders.
- Amy Kennedy, married to Patrick Kennedy, is a former public school teacher who speaks on a personal level about children whose academic success is impeded by difficulties at home or in their communities. She believes that teachers and school administrators have a critical role to play in prevention and early intervention in mental health since they are often among the first to be aware of a child’s social or emotional challenges.
Changing the healthcare system to emphasize prevention and early intervention and fully integrate effective mental health and substance-use disorder treatments will require the commitment of many diverse individuals and coordination among numerous sectors. The convening power of the Kennedy Forum—bringing employers, payers, plan administrators, government officials, and philanthropic partners, as well as providers, consumers, peers, and affected families together—should foster connections to make that change possible.