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The Strategic Path Forward

September 04, 2013

The Strategic Path Forward

An Interview with President and CEO Beth Finnerty and Chief Medical Officer Dr. Ray Kotwicki

 Could you give us an overview of the plan for strategic growth over the next three to five years?

BETH: The most recent strategic plan is actually the fourth strategic plan in our 23-year history, and like the other plans before it, our board has worked very hard to meet the needs of our constituents. The plan addresses key areas of growth at Skyland Trail, including developing a fourth campus to serve the escalating need for treatment services for young adults ages 18 to 25, expanding access to primary care services to individuals living with a mental illness in the Atlanta area, and leveraging the opportunity to serve as a learning community through educational experiences and partnerships with academic centers across the country. So there are a lot of really exciting initiatives set forth in this plan.

This strategic plan is the result of a robust planning effort. What was that process and who was involved?

BETH: We started the process in 2010. It has involved not only our board members, staff, families and clients but also community members across Atlanta who have an interest in mental health services and Skyland Trail. Several teams of volunteer leaders analyzed the best approaches to ensure that Skyland Trail is positioned and prepared to meet the current and future needs of our clients in terms of programming, services, leadership, governance and resources. After our Board of Directors approved the plan, we began developing budgets and looking at land opportunities for the fourth campus. In 2013 we will launch a capital campaign to begin to put these initiatives in place.

How do you see this plan for a specialized facility for young adults improving treatment?

RAY: Over the last five years almost 75 percent of our patients have been in the 18- to 25-year-old age group. While the country is seeing this change in general, at Skyland Trail we’re really seeing a spike in young adult enrollment, and we’re very thankful for that because early intervention can lead to better treatment outcomes.

The activity level and the way that young adults bond together and support one another in the recovery process is really quite different from people who are 40 and older. A sequestered young adult campus will give us more opportunities to meet young adults’ needs culturally and therapeutically, helping them fully engage in their treatment program. For example, the campus will help our treatment team use technology more extensively, integrate more physical activity into treatment, and facilitate family involvement in therapy in a more streamlined way.

Another key component of the plan is expanding the primary care clinic. Can you talk about that vision?

BETH:  Our National Advisory Board encouraged us early on to find ways to integrate primary medical care into our treatment model. We opened a part-time primary care clinic in 2004 for our clients. It quickly grew to a full-time clinic, now with a nurse practitioner and nursing assistant and 24-hour nursing staff at each residential facility. The benefit to our clients has just been phenomenal.

The next step is to move our clinic to a bigger site, expand the services offered and extend access to the clinic to our alumni and to the broader community of individuals living with mental illness in Atlanta.

We are thrilled with the early outcomes of our clinic, and believe expanding our services is an opportunity to help save lives.

Why is the integration of primary care into mental health treatment services important?

RAY: The evidence is becoming clear that mental illnesses and physical illnesses are inextricably linked. We know that people with mental illnesses have twice the rates of heart disease and diabetes and maybe even higher rates of pulmonary disease compared to the general population. If we don’t provide effective care to prevent the development of those medical problems, we are not really doing all we can to help our clients live quality lives.

And we’re not solely focused on treating illnesses. We want to inspire lifestyle changes. This can be particularly important for young adults. If you’re not used to living on your own in the first place, plus we superimpose a mental illness on being 18, that’s a volatile combination for making good decisions about healthy eating and active living.

Through our holistic treatment model, we want to communicate to our clients that you can expect to live a long time, you can expect to be happy, you can expect to have good relationships and part of that is taking care of your physical health.

What is your vision for Skyland Trail 10 to 20 years from now?

BETH: I think the most immediate needs are what we identified in the strategic plan, but I think there are opportunities to expand our continuum of care, particularly with our alumni. We’re already working to develop an alumni program. We’ve heard from graduates of our program that the connections and relationships they made at Skyland Trail continue to be important and valuable after they leave. And there are opportunities to continue to be a resource to our alumni through our primary care clinic, vocational services and other programs.

I look at the future of Skyland Trail as very bright and exciting. I think we have great leadership in place and a really tremendous staff who will continue to identify what is needed in the community and find innovative ways to meet those needs.

RAY: I think that if we demonstrate the potential of our treatment model and approach to respectful, holistic care through data, scholarship and educational opportunities, we can help change the face of mental health treatment in this country. Ultimately, I think we can express to people that having a mental illness is not a death sentence, that psychiatric illness should be treated equal to any other medical problem, and that, if evidence-based practices are applied in a respectful community of care, it is imminently possible to recover from any mental illness.

This article appeared in the 2013 issue of our Journeys Magazine

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