The Kennedy Forum, moonshot for mental & behavioral health parity & inclusion

One thing is for certain about the Kennedys. There are a lot of them, and they are very accomplished. During the last couple of days while staying in Boston I met Patrick, Ted Jr., their mother Joan, cousin Steven (Kennedy Smith), and Joseph. I’m also sure there were a few others that I didn’t have an opportunity to meet. I was in town as a guest of Patrick Kennedy who had invited me to attend the Kennedy Forum Gala on Monday evening and to participate in a panel discussion on technology at the Kennedy Forum Conference that was held Tuesday at the Westin Copley Place Hotel.

WP_20150608_18_44_47_ProThe Monday Gala event was held at the JFK library and museum. As an invited conference speaker, I received an invitation to also attend a VIP cocktail reception at the newly opened Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate. The Institute complex honors our congressional system of government. The main feature is an exact, full-size replica of the Senate floor. It serves as a tribute to Senator Ted Kennedy’s many years of service to our country. I must say it was humbling to be there and meet the late WP_20150608_18_39_33_ProSenator’s wife, Joan, and other members of the Kennedy family. I also had a chance to talk briefly with former Speaker, Newt Gingrich, and his wife, Callista, as well as former US Surgeon General, Dr. David Satcher. 

Later that evening we walked over to the JFK Library to join the larger group of Gala attendees. There we enjoyed a wonderful dinner, entertainment, and some moving talks given by Patrick, Newt, and Martin Luther III. 

WP_20150609_15_31_58_ProFor those who might not know, the mission of the Kennedy Forum is to drive change in our healthcare system by partnering with mental health and addiction advocates, policymakers, and business leaders around key opportunities for progress, including provider accountability, integration and coordination, technology, and brain fitness and health.

From his opening remarks at the Gala to his closing comments at the Conference, Patrick Kennedy’s passion to bring mental and behavioral health into the mainstream of healthcare was made very clear. While Patrick spoke of “parity” for mental and behavioral health (including substance abuse and brain fitness), Newt Gingrich introduced an equally powerful word, “inclusion”. In either case, the goal is to bring mental and behavioral health out of the shadows of stigma and advance research and inclusive treatment and insurance coverage for these disorders as we do for any other illness or affliction.

I am neither a mental health or behavioral health specialist, but I know from many years of practicing primary care medicine the toll these disorders, including substance abuse, take on our citizens. Some 24 million Americans suffer from serious mental health issues. All up, at one time or another, about one quarter of the US population is affected by mental illness, behavioral health problems, or substance abuse. One shocking fact is the degree to which these disorders drive incarceration in America, estimated to be factor in about 85 percent of those serving prison time.

The panel discussion I participated in was moderated by Lisa Marsch, Ph.D., Director, Center for Technology and Behavioral Health, Dartmouth College. Also on the panel was Anne Altman, GM, US Federal Government and Industries, IBM; Stephen Kennedy Smith, Co-Founder and Executive Vice President, Corporate Development, Pear Therapeutics; and Michael Knable, DO, Executive Director of the Sylvan C. Herman Foundation and Medical Director of Clearview Communities, LLC. Each of us shared our perspectives for how technology is being and will be applied to improve the quality, access, and cost of mental and behavioral health services

WP_20150609_14_29_40_ProI left the conference feeling optimistic not only about the role of technology in addressing better care and services for those who suffer from mental or behavioral health problems, but also about the Kennedy Forum’s capability to drive a national, and perhaps global agenda to help erase the stigma associated with diseases of the mind and align parity in insurance coverage and government support for mental and behavioral health. If JFK had his moon shot, Patrick Kennedy‘s moon shot is for mental and behavioral health parity and to one day proudly proclaim, “mission accomplished!”

Bill Crounse, MD Senior Director, Worldwide Health Microsoft

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