Fourteenth century poet Geoffrey Chaucer once wrote, “All good things must come to an end.” These words rang true when, in July 2015, Dr. David Stone, longtime CEO of Sound Mental Health, announced his retirement.
Dr. Stone spent the past 27 years building Sound Mental Health from modest beginnings into one of the most respected behavioral health organizations in the region. During his tenure, he helped transform SMH from a $4 million organization with a handful of programs to a comprehensive, successful entity synonymous with innovation, quality and efficiency.
Over the years, his influence ensured recovery, opportunity and hope to tens of thousands of clients and their families. Earning $60 million in annual revenue and with stable financial reserves, Dr. Stone is leaving SMH in a far better position than when he took the position in 1989.
“Over time we made very conscious decisions on ways that we could not only survive,” says Dr. Stone, “but also thrive and become essential to the community. Part of that strategy was a determination, a willingness to develop an array of specialized services for populations that were receiving little or no attention by most other provider organizations, and focus upon serving those people in ways that would be most likely to help them.”
Thus began a steady drive to create specialized programs to serve older adults, children and youth, off enders with mental health or addiction issues, the homeless living with behavioral health challenges, people who are developmentally disabled and many others.
Because of its stability, SMH will continue to offer services and hope to the community for years to come. But the organization’s financial health and comprehensive range of services are not necessarily the only legacy of Dr. Stone and his executive team. The pinnacle of achievement is what has happened beyond SMH’s clinical walls.
Dr. Stone explains: “I think I played a role in helping my colleagues in community mental health as well as county staff understand the importance of all the provider organizations to the community’s mental health. I feel good about helping to change the county’s perspective and ultimately their model on the way behavioral health services are provided here.”
Along with just a few other leaders in behavioral health, Dr. Stone’s decades of tireless advocacy and building key relationships in the community also have promoted a better future for community mental health. The legacy of leaders like David Stone is that behavioral health care has come to have a level of currency and credibility that was absent earlier in its history.
“I hope that as a result of my involvement over the past 27 years I’ve inspired a few people to think about those issues more than they otherwise would have done, maybe to encourage them to take action or at least ponder the issues more seriously.”
While he is modest about his contributions, changes in public perception, for which Dr. Stone has labored, cannot be overlooked as central in advancing the integration of behavioral health with primary care. In the late 1990s, for example, Sound Mental Health placed mental health professionals within primary care clinics operated by Medalia Healthcare LLC. The Affordable Care Act in 2014 set the stage for SMH’s return to collaboration with the broader health care community via a partnership with the Swedish Medical Group. This collaboration has provided primary care physicians a mechanism that promotes the seamless referral of patients with serious and costly mental health issues to be served quickly and professionally by Sound Mental Health clinicians.
“What I would like for SMH in the future is partnership, a strong collaborative relationship with at least one or two health care systems, with substantial inpatient facilities and also a network of primary care clinics and other specialty care. What I want for Sound Mental Health is to be a partner with more of those systems so that the type of client we both treat can receive a more complete and beneficial level of care.”
The partnership with Swedish Medical Group enables patients to receive support for both physical and mental health needs concurrently and interactively. The natural output of this cooperation improves outcomes, reduces overall costs and leads to better health care experiences While there are other accomplishments one can list from his fruitful tenure here, it is this development that stands out as a key source of pride for Dr. Stone. It cements his place in SMH’s long history.
The transition of leadership from Dr. Stone to a new CEO at Sound Mental Health surely will be marked by uncertainty and change. The one thing that is clear is that the new leader will take the helm of an organization that is a ground breaker in advocacy and innovative practices, has earned widespread respect among health care peers nationwide and is positioned for decades of continued growth will provide.