Innovation is a buzzword that comes up frequently with health and human service executives but it seems to be the exception rather than the rule in the market, which needs to change. For long-term sustainability and to establish and retain market position, executives need to look ahead and create service offerings that are in high demand and will be profitable in the emerging market (see Coming Up With The Next Big Thing). In other words, they need to lean in to market challenges—or what some see as opportunities—and innovate.
To make innovation the rule rather than the exception, prioritizing and budgeting for innovation is essential. That’s the message from Carl Clark, M.D., chief executive officer of the Mental Health Center of Denver, who is recognized for bringing innovation to the market. During a recent interview he spoke about the discipline required to make innovation happen. “The ability to lead in health care relies on an organization’s ability to act on innovative ideas, which takes time, resources, and discipline…. We all have limited resources—that’s true for any business. It’s how you deploy those resources that’s important. You have to consider how to use a portion of your time and dollars as an investment in the future.”
How to structure an organization to foster and facilitate innovation is a big question for most executive teams – and one that Mental Health Center of Denver has addressed (see 3 Models For Structuring Your Organization For Innovation). “If you look at companies known for innovating in the tech space like Apple, Google, or Amazon they have dedicated entire divisions to innovation. It’s not a new concept in business, but in behavioral health, we are just beginning to understand the benefits of focusing on innovation,” said Dr. Clark.
Mental Health Center of Denver, which provides treatment and outreach to more than 70,000 people, allocates a percentage of its financial portfolio to innovation and recently created a Tech Innovation Lab, a business unit responsible for shepherding innovations from idea to implementation (see Mental Health Center Of Denver: An OPEN MINDS Organizational Profile). “We opened the Tech Innovation Lab to help push this field forward,” said Dr. Clark. “We have to be innovative in how we deliver our services.”
Challenges provide a platform or a bridge for innovative solutions at Mental Health Center of Denver. One example: Of the people who need help, two out of five get the care they need (see The 68%). “We have to meet people where they are at,” said Dr. Clark, who sees technology as a tool to help address access and workforce issues. “We want to make sure that everyone in Denver has access to the care they need.”
Two examples of how the organization is “leaning in” to community challenges and developing services to avoid unnecessary hospitalization of consumers with mental illnesses and to address housing for consumers with complex social support needs.
Leaning Into The Mental Health/Jail Continuum
In Denver, an inordinate number of residents are sent to jails instead of treatment. To address that challenge, Mental Health Center of Denver introduced a Co-Responder Program in 2016 to redirect people to mental health treatment when appropriate (see Keeping On Top Of Innovations In Corrections). “We trained clinicians to accompany police officers on calls that had a behavioral health component,” said Dr. Clark. “As a result, 99% of the people contacted by the co-responder team received the support they needed instead of going to jail” (see New Pilot Programs Focus on Individuals Cycling Through Criminal Justice System). “The jailers love it, the police love it, and the co-responders love it. Rather than expect people who need help to walk through our door, we go to where people are having trouble and intervene.”
The program was launched in one police district in Denver in 2016, expanded in 2017, and expanded again in 2018 to every police district in the city. “It took a long time to convince the police department that having civilians in police cars was a good idea,” said Dr. Clark. “What started as an innovative and controversial idea has resulted in a nationally-recognized model to reduce overcrowding in jails and get people connected to the help they need,” he added (see Stepping Up To The Problem Of Mental Health In Corrections Facilities).
Leaning Into The Housing Crisis
Another example of using a challenge to spark innovation is the homelessness issue in Denver, which the organization addressed by opening the Sanderson Apartments, a 60-unit building with a trauma-informed design. The apartments opened in 2018 and provide permanent, supportive housing for people who had been chronically homeless for years (see The Future Of Housing Support).
The idea and the funding mechanism for the project are innovative. The Mental Health Center of Denver partnered with the city to fund the project with Social Impact Bonds, which leverage private bonds for projects and save public funds. Denver officials estimate that the people identified for the program were costing the city $7.3 million annually with jail stays, detox, emergency room visits, and other issues.
By all accounts, the Sanderson Apartment project has twice met the performance indicators necessary to pay back the bond holders, Dr. Clark explained. “Social Impact Bonds allowed us to pursue an innovative solution to save public tax dollars while making sure that the most vulnerable people in our city have a place to call home.”
For more on this topic, check out the following resources from the OPEN MINDS Circle Library:
- What We Can Still Learn From Mickey Mouse In 2019
- New Approaches For Autism: Early Intervention, Telehealth & More
- Expanding Access Through Technology: Innovative Approaches For Improving Access To Care
- Mental Health Center Of Denver’s Innovation Lab For Virtual Care
- Innovation Drivers In Behavioral Health: A Market Briefing
- Making Innovation Work—Think Past, Present, Future
- Innovative Treatment Programs For Value-Based Partnerships: An OPEN MINDS Executive Summit & Showcase
- Innovation Adoption Among Specialty Provider Organizations: The 2019 OPEN MINDS National Innovation Survey
- Building A Value-Based Sustainability Strategy: How To Develop Innovative Programs & Manage Your Service Line Portfolio
- Opportunity & Innovation In The Autism Market: The Beacon Health Options Strategy
And join us June 2 to learn more about how MHCD is reinventing service delivery during the “Innovation In Design: Capturing Value In Health Care” with Dr. Clark during The OPEN MINDS 2020 Strategy & Innovation Institute June 1-4 in New Orleans, Louisiana.