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Dazed, but not confused -- National Council Conference Highlights

April 18, 2012

Hats off to the National Council for pulling off another information-packed meeting, though this time, they may have gone too far—at least for me.  The conference featured a number of very interesting plenary speakers—Tom Insel, Daniel Pink, Pamela Hyde, Tom Daschle— but what I couldn’t get over was the fact that the workshop segments featured up to a dozen different consecutive presentations—more presentations that any staff at any magazine could possibly reach.  Torn by the attraction of so many options, the motion of so many moving parts, I left the floor every day worn out by the choices, the impossibility of touching it all . . . 

So, you get now why I’m a bit dazed?

The reason I’m not confused is that there was a level of clarity and commitment of those involved—a sense of determination in the face of onrushing change—a sense that “we’ve figured this out before and we’ll do so again.”  No money, little political support, difficult problems?  No matter-- I saw people interested, involved, and energetic.  See overview of Behavioral Healthcare National Council Conference coverage

Highlights—from my perspective:

  • Tom Insel MD outlining the NIMH’s efforts to put evidence behind the causes and treatment of mental disorders.  His discussion of mental disorders as “complex circuit disorders” resulting from a complex mix of genetics, development, and experience offers some middle ground between the “medical” model of mental disorders and the “recovery” model. So too does his emphasis that addressing mental disorders requires—in addition to a lot more basic research—an appreciation that genetics, medical/physical therapies, cognitive therapies, and medications all play a role in treatment.
  • Psychiatrist Carl Bell—in the same hall—critizing Director Insel’s focus on “hard science” to find the causes and treatments for mental illness. Bell expressed his anger that Insel’s focus delayed the deployment of NIMH and national resources in the face of decades of work that argued for the government’s immediate and sustained investment in family and community-building interactions already proven to help youth and families build “protective factors” against mental illness despite the risk factors of poverty and trauma in their lives.   
  • SAMHSA Pamela Hyde, in spirited remarks, joking that while the US mandates 16 year olds to undergo extensive training and testing to receive a driver’s license, there’s no mandate for teenagers (or anyone else) to have lessons in parenting—notably the approaches that parents can use to protect their children from the threats of trauma, substance abuse, and mental illness. “I wonder,” she mused, “what the Supreme Court would say about a mandate like that!”  Hyde got high marks for “connecting” with her audience—getting off the script and communicating effectively.
  • Former Senator Tom Daschle calling on the audience—and the country—to consider that there is bipartisan agreement on the problems with the healthcare system—high costs, inconsistent quality, inadequate prevention—and that an insurance mandate already exists:  Currently those with insurance pay for those without. Daschle expressed optimism that the Supreme Court would uphold the ACA mandate given the past precedents established by Social Security—which he called “mandatory retirement insurance” and the Medicare Part A mandate for seniors.
  • Members of the Software and Technology Vendors’ Association, or SATVA, closing ranks around an EHR interoperability solution – a cloud-based Health Information Services Platform (HISP) – with a new twist:  an interoperable Continuity of Care Document that allows for real—not simulated—interchange of “ultrasensitive” addiction treatment information.  SATVA members argue that demonstrating compliance with federal 42 CFR Part 2 requirements electronically eliminates the technical barriers posed by compliance with a range of federal and state health-information protection laws that go beyond HIPAA requirements.
  • Also--I loved the Idea Talks--short format talks on interesting topics.  I like them because I find them so memorable.  And, let's face it, everybody who attends a conference is expected to "bring home" something from it.  These brief, tightly-packed talks the fill the bill on this requirement.  Very visual, very concentrated, easy to connect with, recall, and relate to others.   

All in all, a wide range of viewpoints and a lot of new and familiar faces.  Enjoyed it.

One thing I'm still getting used to:  The 43rd National Council Conference will be held in Las Vegas--at Caesar's Palace.  I know that from the standpoints of practicality, business, travel, efficiency, and more, Las Vegas is a super conference destination. And, perhaps, given the recession's impact on that area, it may even be a kind of public service.  But I'm just now thinking of this transition:  going from a talk on spirituality in recovery or homeless SPMI outreach into Cleopatra's Barge to hash things out with a colleague. Hmmm . . . 

On the other hand, I suppose that if the talk were about the "circus" atmosphere surrounding the politics of funding or the way that behavioral healthcare providers must "gamble" their financial futures to obtain HIT or continue their missions of service, maybe Las Vegas is just right.   Guess I'm still sorting this one out.  

One thing's for sure, though:  what goes in Vegas at the National Council Conference better not stay there.  And another, Behavioral Healthcare will be there. Hope you will too.

Back to the point--What did you think about, learn about, find intersting or noteworthy at the National Council Conference?  Would love to hear from you.

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