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Behavioral Healthcare Champion: Rochelle Head-Dunham

July 24, 2018

Since stepping into her role as executive director and medical director of the Metropolitan Human Services District in New Orleans in March 2016, Rochelle Head-Dunham, MD, has put a focus on strengthening the agency’s continuum of care, particularly for the area’s underserved minority population that is eligible for treatment. Along the way, she has built an empowered, educated clinical staff that is putting patients first, too.

Dunham describes the agency she inherited as having “a lean business model” that relied heavily on outside contractors to provide care so as to be nimble in the event of budget cuts. Dunham says developing a person-centric mindset on providing services has been a priority since she has taken over.

“Missing from the agency was a commitment to providing the entire continuum of care for a behavioral health population, which includes mental illness, substance use and everything in between,” Dunham says. “Not having the adequate staff employed by the agency to deliver services for anybody who walks in the door, it’s important since we are funded to do that, that we have that continuum in our clinic.”

To that end, Dunham added licensed addiction counselors to the agency’s staff and entered into a working relationship with Louisiana State University’s addiction fellowship program. The agency also has been able to partner with local substance use disorder provider agencies and hire resource coordinators through a Medication-Assisted Treatment-Prescription Drug and Opioid Addiction (MAT-PCOA) grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Dunham has also created an academic faculty curriculum that includes clinical guidance on a weekly basis and lunch-and-learn style programs in which staff members can earn CEUs.

“I don’t want my staff to be stressed by leaving the agency to get CEUs or spending inordinate amounts of time or money to get their CEUs,” Dunham says. “If I can incorporate that into the normal activity in our agency, I know that will serve them better.”

Lastly, Dunham has overseen the development of a recovery-oriented system of care (ROSC) that aligns stakeholders in the mission of being ready to provide service to patients when they are ready to receive treatment. It might not always offer staff members the dependability of set schedules, but it ultimately drives better outcomes for patients.

“Our work is to help our community partners understand this approach to care to empower people to take control of their lives so we can all get better outcomes from the services we provide,” Dunham says.

Dunham says that while implementing the changes to MHSD’s structure and service model, she has observed a positive change in the agency’s staff.

“I’m most proud of the cohesiveness that has developed amongst my team and the pride that they are beginning to take in the work they’re doing that ultimately is translating into providing a much better service to the people we’re trying to help. I’m very proud of the turnaround,” she says. “It’s been my goal to help them come into their own [and believe] in their own capabilities, and to challenge them to believe they can do more. I see that happening. That, for me, is probably the thing that is most important because it translates into a much better service for the general public, who we’re responsible for helping.”

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