Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation on Thursday announced it is promoting from within to fill the role of CEO and president of the organization. Joseph Lee, MD, who has served as Hazelden Betty Ford’s Youth Continuum medical director since 2010, has been chosen to succeed retiring chief executive Mark Mishek, effective June 28. He will also serve as president of the Hazelden Betty Ford Graduate School of Addiction Studies.
Lee will be Hazelden’s eighth CEO. He is the first non-white individual to hold the not-for-profit organization’s top executive spot, as well as the first physician. At the age of 45, he’s also the youngest CEO in Hazelden’s 72-year history.
In a call with reporters on Thursday afternoon, Lee described himself as “a homegrown leader who has learned from some of the best.”
“My being CEO is a testament to the kind of forethought and leadership Hazelden had,” Lee said. “They knew mental health services were important. They knew medical services were important. They built that into the infrastructure and leadership, which is what made all of this possible instead of coming out of left field from another agency.
“When I first came into the treatment side of things from Johns Hopkins, a lot of other treatment centers were trying to go closer to the beach. They were building swimming pools with lattes by the ocean and whatever. We decided to partner with insurance companies. We went 180 degrees the opposite direction. We’ve made a number of choices like that since, and those have been the right choices. We’ve been true to our mission, and I hope that I can live up to that legacy and continue that.”
Lee is board certified in adult psychiatry, child and adolescent psychiatry, and addiction medicine. He is a member of the Motivational Interviewing Network of Trainers, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and the American Society of Addiction Medicine. He also serves on the board of the philanthropic St. Paul and Minnesota Foundation.
Lee will take the helm after Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation navigated a turbulent year created by the COVID-19 pandemic. Lee noted that the organization’s leadership took pay cuts and that layoffs were limited to non-clinical staff who worked off site. Lee praised Hazelden Betty Ford’s clinicians for meeting the challenge of unprecedented demand for services in the face of uncertainty.
“Being on our front lines, I saw in the eyes of our nursing staff, our front-line staff, our doctors, in their hearts I saw fear sometimes and I was scared too,” he said. “We didn’t know what [COVID-19] was or how it spread. It was very scary. But I was inspired by how courageous they were. I will never forget how inspirational last year was.”
Looking forward, Lee said advancing diversity-related initiatives will be among his priorities as CEO. Lee’s parents immigrated to the U.S. from Seoul, South Korea, and he grew up in Oklahoma, studied in North Carolina, and spent the early part of his career at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. Noting that Hazelden Betty Ford has long been “an organization that has spoken for the marginalized,” he said he sees opportunity for growth.
“We have to do a lot more,” Lee said. “We don’t just need more diverse employees. We have to have diverse leaders. We have to have a pipeline for development. We have to work more with different communities in creative ways. We call it broadening our banner, uplifting other voices, and we’re committed to doing that.”
Photo provided by Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation.