The atmosphere in Las Vegas for the 2016 NatCon annual conference was clearly celebratory in the wake of the industry accomplishments, but also took on a renewed focus on addiction and social determinants of health.
National Council President and CEO Linda Rosenberg kicked off NatCon16 with a comparison of where the industry was 10 years ago and where it is today. She spoke about policy, technology and the social determinants of health to the 5,600 attendees. “Because of our struggles and our progress, we have an unprecedented opportunity to help people at the margins, and you have developed the tools to do that,” she said. Rosenberg also highlighted NatCon’s growth from 700 organization members to 2,700 in the past decade.
Chris Matthews, host of MSNBC’s “Hardball” and longtime political journalist, provided analysis of the presidential race. He said the American people must choose a president and give that person the power to get things done, rather than argue along party lines. “When there is a crisis or urgent situation, deal with it. There’s a solution. Don’t kick the can down the road,” he said. Matthews also said in this election, all the candidates of the establishment are being blown away by showmanship, but voters should be wary of outrageous statements made by candidates that simply aren’t true. “Cleveland is going to be a madhouse if Trump gets the nomination,” he said of the GOP. “I think Hillary is going to win the nomination because she’s sound. She’s not exciting, and she’s sound,” he said of Democrats.
Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, discussed the emerging science behind the brain’s function as it relates to addiction. Volkow said the evidence shows the addicted brain loses the ability to shift from behaviors that were once rewarding but no longer are. “What does self control mean? The ability each one of us has to make decisions on what we should do or not do,” she said. She compared addiction to driving a car without breaks.
In the series of “Uncomfortable Conversations,” a number of experts outlined opposing viewpoints on key issues: privacy concerns under 42 CFR Part 2; civil commitment; and clinical versus cultural competence. Sally Satel, staff psychiatrist and resident scholar for Yale University School of Medicine (left) and Glenda Wrenn, assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral science for the Morehouse School of Medicine (right) discussed the role of race as a population health variable and as a hindrance to care when race is seen as a social construct. “If you don’t have enough time with patients, that is a problem that transcends race,” Satel said. “Our system is not going to automatically evolve to treat people in culturally appropriate way…We have to take responsibility and not be Pollyanna about it and say it is where it should be. It isn’t,” Wrenn said.
The National Council for Behavioral Health Awards of Excellence included the Inspiring Hope, Advocacy Leadership, Visionary Leadership, Change Maker, Helping Hands and Impact Awards. Each one honors the achievements of individuals with mental illnesses and addictions and their families; the clinicians and treatment teams that care for them; the advocates and leaders who tell their stories to educate and encourage community support; and organizations that promote health and wellness.