An interview with William Kyles and Linda Rosenberg, National Council’s Board Chair and President/CEO
These are difficult times and although there is the hope of a better future, we are struggling. Looking back, how far have we come?
Bill: A dream that we thought would never see the light of day finally came to fruition. I’m talking about the passage of parity, a truly historic event.
Linda: I agree. Passage of parity is a tipping point that opens up new possibilities and allows us to think about new directions for access to care and how services are delivered. It sets the floor for us in the healthcare reform debate. Our greatest success, without a doubt, was contributing to the efforts to pass parity and then building upon that success in the design of healthcare reform. The entire behavioral healthcare community can be very proud of coming together to ensure that mental health and addiction services are no longer stepchildren, but have equality with the rest of healthcare. We can assure Americans that freedom from mental illnesses and addictions is essential to good health, prevention is possible, treatment is effective, and recovery should be expected.
Bill: I second that. We were successful in laying the groundwork for inclusion in healthcare reform and in providing leadership during the debate to ensure that new supports for prevention and treatment included mental health and addiction services.
The National Council had successes beyond parity, including beating back cuts to Medicaid, veterans’ legislation, funding that brings primary care to people with serious mental illnesses and behavioral healthcare amendments in healthcare reform. What do you attribute these successes to?
Bill: Success resulted from very effective partnerships: of the persons with mental and addiction disorders that we serve, the practitioners and organizations that serve them, our partner network of State and local associations that work closely with us, the National Council staff, and our Board. All of us work incredibly well together. When you add to that the alignment we have with so many sister national associations, government agencies and leaders, and the larger stakeholder community—success follows.
Linda: Bill outlined the elements critical for success. I’m most proud of the increasing involvement of our members in advocacy, and the relationships they’ve built with their elected officials. We would not have had any of our successes without the efforts of our member organizations, their staff, and their Boards. The National Council’s visionary Board of Directors (just watch the Fighting for Our Future video on our website to get a glimpse of their passion) set a savvy course for us, and our incredible staff took the Board’s vision and worked with our members to make it happen. It’s a great team.
At a time when organizations are struggling for survival in the face of budget cuts, we saw a 98 percent renewal rate and a growth in membership. Why do you think “National Council Membership” makes it to the “keep” list?
Linda: I think that member organizations know we understand their world and that we’re able to translate their experience and the experiences of the consumers and families they serve to Washington policy makers. The National Council is a place of action, we understand the complexities of delivering services on the ground and we offer relevant solutions. We believe in possibilities and I think and I hope members appreciate that.
What are our weaknesses? Where would you like to see us do better?
Bill: As an industry, we need to do better in measuring outcomes. We also need to enhance diversity among the leaders of our member organizations so we can better address health disparities in our communities. Leaders representing underserved communities can often reach out and engage those communities in ways that others can’t. We also struggle with how much we can take on. We have great passion and energy as an association, and we accomplish so much. But prioritizing is always a challenge. We must ensure that we are not overwhelmed by our own passion.
What lies ahead? What is the National Council’s role as we look to the future?
Linda: In some ways, the future has already been laid out in front of us. We have much to do as parity and healthcare reform are implemented over the next few years. Passing a law is a first step; now, we need to advocate for an interpretation of the law and for ensuing regulations that ensure real access to needed and wanted services. Recovery and full social inclusion must remain our true north during the next few years.
Bill: Absolutely. We are living in transformative times. We must manage the change so the change does not manage us. The National Council is committed to supporting members in every way, including helping consumers enroll in the expansion of Medicaid and the health exchanges; advocating for and navigating the array of possible payment reforms; and expanding and strengthening the workforce. We will continue to lobby for parity in the safety net, bringing to community behavioral health organizations the same benefits that hospitals and health centers have.