Behavioral Health Pioneer, and Medical Director, Dr. Robert Houk, Dies

The behavioral health community has lost a titan. Robert “Dr. Bob” Houk, MD, longtime medical director at Sound, and a pioneer in behavioral health’s formative years, passed away on December 6, 2018. He was 81 years old. A memorial service is hoped for in January, 2019.

For more than 40 years, “Dr. Bob” served at Sound (when it was named Seattle Mental Health Institute, Seattle Mental Health and Sound Mental Health), pioneering an approach to client care that not only exists at Sound today, but is the standard of care across the industry in the state of Washington.

Dr. Houk pioneered more “humanistic” models of care. This model which was client-centered, treated clients as people and steadfastly involved them directly in their care. It was an audacious, dramatic departure from the more “institutional” models that prevailed at the time.

“What always meant the most to me … is that we created an oasis of humanism, where we have helped and will continue to help thousands of people who otherwise might not be served,” he said in 2010.

This model of care is amazingly resilient today. It is still a central tenant of the Sound way and foundational to Sound’s client-centered approach to care. Dr. Houk’s impact, however, extended well beyond the walls of Sound. The approach that was being pioneered at Sound and other community mental health centers at the time, caught the eye of the Washington State Department of Health and Human Services, which asked him to serve on the Washington State Mental Health Advisory Committee. This post gave Dr. Houk the incredible opportunity to help rewrite the Washington State Mental Health Plan. Sound’s Medical Direction Policies promoting the integration of medication management with team-oriented, holistic community-based behavioral healthcare were key influences in developing the Plan.

Both at the state level and at Sound, Dr. Houk and his colleagues pioneered best practices that helped to reduce medication dosages, engaged clients more in their care, decreased hospitalizations and incarceration rates.

“It is tremendously  rewarding to apply the clinical models we developed in the early days,” he said, “and expand them to not only affect the entire mental health system, but to truly improve the quality of life for so many people in our community.”

Beyond his legacy and contributions to Sound and the behavioral health industry, Dr. Houk touched the lives of those he helped and those with whom he worked and mentored.

“I met Dr. Bob when I was about 24 years old and just out of school,” says Katrina Egner, vice president & chief programs officer at Sound.  “Not only was he fantastic with the clients but he would take the time to tell me all about his years in the field and working at the state hospitals.  I learned so much from him and was educated and entertained by his story telling and years of experience.  He was a founding father of Sound and a great asset to the field and our entire community.  I will miss him.”