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Behavioral Health Champion: Dr. Thomas Insel

As key advisor to Governor Newsom on mental health, Dr. Thomas Insel is helping lead California in addressing behavioral health challenges. We were thrilled to sit down with him for our #BehavioralHealthChampion interview series.

  • Dr. Insel’s one word: “One word, leadership. What California needs is leadership. It needs to have a plan, a strategy that says this is an important part of health care. For us to be successful, we have to get beyond the brick and mortar of our clinics and our hospitals. We do need to build up those resources, but we also need to move upstream, the way we’ve done in the rest of medicine. We need to bring in schools. We need to focus on the incarceration issues. We need to think about how to help people who are homeless, and who are not in care. And make this something that California decides it will lead on. Up to this point, that has not happened. And I think we have a governor now who wants to make that part of his tenure, part of his legacy.”
  • On creating a vision for California: “Every decision has been made based on the financing. And we do have lots of options for financing behavioral health care in California, more than almost any other state. The problem is you can’t allow the financing to drive your care system. Maybe it does at the end of the day, but you don’t want to start there. You want to start by saying, this is the North star. This is what Camelot looks like. Then we’ll talk about the how. Then we’ll figure out what the financing operations ought to be, to get us to that point.”
  • How can BHA help? “I think we have to do this plan together. This is not a plan that the governor’s going to figure out or that Secretary Ghaly is going to figure out, or that I’ll figure out. We’re certainly deeply involved now and beginning to outline what that might look like, and identifying where we want the focus to be.”
  • The greatest health concern for Californians, Dr. Insel points out, is access to behavioral health care according to a recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll. But: “We struggle assuming no one else has ever had to do this, and there is still such a difficult time in opening up, and learning from other experiences, that in spite of the fact that everybody says it’s the number one concern, nobody wants to talk about it.
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