Smith County Behavioral Health Leadership Team Spearheading Local Systems Change

DALLAS (May 11, 2016) – “Texas is unique in that it is the only large state that does not have an organized infrastructure for comprehensively coordinating resources to manage behavioral health services to populations at the local or regional level. Historically, there has been an assumption that behavioral health was a state responsibility, even though local communities don’t usually look to Austin to solve their problems. When community leaders discover they have an alternative for local control to develop local solutions, it’s empowering. That gets people excited,” says Ken Minkoff, MD, Director of Systems Integration at the Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute.

Minkoff cited the Smith County Behavioral Health Leadership Team as an excellent example of an engaged community putting the local systems change process to work to identify and address behavioral health needs in East Texas. The Smith County Behavioral Health Leadership Team was formally chartered in June 2015, but its original momentum is rooted in the experience of the Doug McSwane family of Tyler, Texas.

When the McSwanes’ son, Patrick, was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 2005, their awareness of treatment options in East Texas was extremely limited. There was no visible community collaboration where issues of mental illness were identified as a priority for conversation and attention. The family managed the disease as best they could, but in 2012, Patrick lost his battle with schizophrenia. Doug McSwane gave purpose to the family’s loss by working with Fonda Latham, LCSW, ACSW, Executive Director, Samaritan Counseling Center to organize the first “Peace of Mind” conference in 2014 aimed at reducing the stigma surrounding mental illness and spreading a message of hope.

Response to the Tyler conference was much greater than anyone anticipated with about 800 people attending the event. The energy surrounding community mental health care services highlighted a bigger issue than stigma alone. The next day, McSwane contacted an acquaintance, Bob Garrett, President and CEO of Fair Oil Company in Tyler, who serves on the board of the Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute (MMHPI), for advice. Bob Garrett helped McSwane get connected to MMHPI for assistance in building a local collaboration that had the capacity to create meaningful change.

“We became involved with helping to facilitate meetings with key local leadership and providing hands-on assistance and guidance to the community volunteers as they began the work to organize into a behavioral health leadership team,” says Christie Cline, MD, MBA, Director of System Quality Improvement.

With assistance from Drs. Minkoff and Cline, McSwane and Latham co-chaired a planning committee and community meetings were held to assess needs and recruit an inclusive behavioral leadership team representing behavioral services, the local Mental Health Authority, psychiatric inpatient units, substance abuse providers, public health, social services, education, justice, city and county government, the faith community, nonprofit services, area businesses, and individual volunteers with lived experience in their own lives or in their families. The committee divided into sub-groups to accomplish the initial steps to charter the Behavioral Health Leadership Team. They were able to expedite some activities using the Institute team’s experience and access to best practice examples of organization structure, charter documents, and processes used by like communities.

The Smith County Behavioral Health Leadership Team moved quickly to adopt its mission, values and bylaws, identify priorities, develop an initial set of deliverables, and form work groups. Its goal is to pull together resources to improve the access and delivery of behavioral health services in Smith County. Two initial priority objectives are in the area of improving the continuum of behavioral health crisis services – with a particular focus on diversion from jail and emergency rooms – and improving coordination of prevention and early intervention efforts across the community. Work groups have been chartered to address each of those issues, along with a Medical Practice Workgroup representing a collaboration between ER physicians and local psychiatry leaders.

The City Council of Tyler approved a resolution to support and recognize the work of the Smith County Behavioral Health Leadership Team, and the County Commission is in the process of doing so. In addition, Episcopal Health Foundation has recognized the value of the Behavioral Health Leadership Team’s work and has granted funding for project management staff to assist the community volunteer effort in achieving its vision. The project manager formally began her efforts in March 2016, and represents additional capacity to help the efforts of the Smith County Behavioral Health Leadership Team to be more coordinated, to have greater capacity to develop a more comprehensive strategic plan, and to track measurable targets and objectives of progress.

The Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute is a nonpartisan organization that supports the implementation of policies and programs to help Texans obtain effective, efficient mental health care when and where they need.

For more information about the Institute, please visit

Leadership Spotlight: Anu Partap, MD, MPH

Anu Partap

Dr. Anu Partap has extensive experience in the clinical, behavioral and developmental health needs of at-risk children with special focus on children affected by violence. Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute frequently calls upon Dr. Partap as a knowledge resource and to participate in projects to assess needs and educate decision makers on the mental health needs of children, particularly those in foster care.

“I think what happens for our children in foster care is a true measure of what communities are doing or not doing well for children in general. If we can treat children who have already been abused or neglected and who have mental health and physical health issues, we can apply those treatment principles to other populations. It’s very rewarding to help children in foster care both because of the level of their need and for the potential of helping all children affected by adversity,” says Dr. Partap.

Dr. Partap is a Diplomat of the American Board of Pediatrics specializing in pediatrics and primary care at Children’s Health. She is also the Director of the Rees-Jones Center for Foster Care Excellence at Children’s Medical Center. A collaboration between Children’s Heath and the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, the Rees-Jones Center brings together foster care experts in pediatrics, research and child welfare to address the primary care as well as the special behavioral and developmental needs of children from birth to 18 years of age who live with relatives, foster parents or in a group home.

Additionally, Dr. Partap is an Assistant Professor at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Department of Pediatrics, and involved in the regional and statewide improvement of health care for children through her professional memberships and committee work. She is a former appointed member of the Texas CASA Mental Health Task Force. Currently, she is co-chair of the Foster Care Committee and co-chair of the Mental Health Committee for the Texas Pediatric Society, and a member of the Foster Care Child Fatality Review team for the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services in Dallas County.

Dr. Partap came to the attention of the Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute during the opening of the Rees-Jones Center in 2014.

“The Institute reached out to me and we had a lot of shared passion and interest right away. I was already involved in trying to serve higher risk populations of children, and half my work overlaps with what is needed for mental health. Since then, whenever the Institute has an opportunity to advance the message for children’s mental health, I’ve been lucky to be asked to participate in talking on integrated care and the mental health needs of children. We’ve also worked on ways the Institute’s expertise could be applied to promote our new model of care at The Rees-Jones Center, and to help meet the needs of children in foster care in regards to mental health.”

Her dedication to improving clinical and mental health services for children has been recognized with several honors and awards including the Arizona Coalition Against Domestic Violence “Community Partner Award” and the America Academy of Pediatrics “Local Hero Award.” In 2014, Superior HealthPlan named her one of its “Community Champions for Children.”

Dr. Partap received her bachelors and medical degree in a six-year combined program at University of Missouri, Kansas City School of Medicine, and completed a Masters in Public Health at the University of Arizona. Her Fellowship in pediatrics was completed at Maricopa Medical Center in Phoenix, Arizona. Her professional affiliations include the American Academy of Pediatrics, Texas Pediatric Society, and the Texas Medical Association.

A Talk with Andy Keller, PhD, the Institute’s New CEO

On January 1, 2016, the Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute’s newly appointed President and Chief Executive Officer, Dr. Andy Keller succeeded founding CEO Thomas W. Luce, who continues to serve on the Board of Directors. Dr. Keller is a psychologist with more than 20 years of experience in behavioral health policy and is a recognized leader in health and human services integration, behavioral health financing, and implementation of empirically supported practices for adults and children. In addition to helping plan and found the Institute, his most recent work has centered on helping local systems implement evidence-based and innovative care, as well as helping local and state governments develop the regulatory and financial framework to support them. Entering the second quarter of his leadership, Dr. Keller shares his thoughts on the Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute’s direction and outlook.

Q: As the new CEO of the Institute, what are your top priorities for moving its mission forward?

One of my main priorities is continuity. We got off to a great start – Tom was an outstanding founding CEO and assembled a great team. We established credibility in Austin with legislative and agency decision makers, and we want to continue that. The work has been solid, the mission is right on, and the direction we’re headed has a lot of traction.

My second priority for this year is Speaker Straus’s Select Committee on Mental Health. He assembled a prestigious committee and named Representative Four Price as chair. Being able to use our resources to be sure the committee has the best information available is a big priority for us. In addition, because of its broad charge and ambitious agenda, I believe that we’ll be informed by the work of the Select Committee. I’m excited about that.

Third is thoughtful growth. Our mission is not just to respond to immediate legislative opportunities. It’s also to create an Institute that is an enduring resource for the state of Texas. That means continuing to build the organization in a thoughtful way so that it is still around in 50 years doing good work for the people of Texas.

Q: How do you envision the work of the Institute will grow or evolve over the next few years?

We want to be statewide, not just Austin focused. Policy changes in the Capitol won’t really matter if the parent of a child with depression can’t get help through their pediatrician or other provider. So we really have to help local systems develop so every Texan can get the help they need. Our biggest area of growth will be to engage more communities at the local level, though the Institute only goes into places where we are invited and where people feel we can contribute. We’re working with about a dozen communities now. The goal is to grow that by five or 10 new communities a year, be it a single county or a region, to support the development of their local systems.

Children and families are our other major area of growth. We got off quickly with work on veterans and criminal justice, but 50 percent of mental illness manifests before age 14. We need to have the effective care and support that children need to grow and thrive.

Q: The Institute recently launched Okay to Say, a movement to talk openly about mental illness. Why is it important, and how can it help change the Texas mental health landscape?

Two-thirds of people with mental illness do not seek care, too often because they do not ask for help. Complex illnesses of any type require bold conversations and growing awareness to help people get the help that they need. Public awareness is also key to getting researchers, medical institutions, and funders to respond and invest in more research and services. That’s been key to advances in other diseases such as cancer and AIDS. We have to help people believe that it worth it to quit being silent and speak up about mental illness to get the help that they and their families deserve.

Okay to Say™ is a community-based movement initiated by the Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute. The objective is to eliminate the misconceptions and stereotypes that stand in the way of people getting the care they need by increasing public awareness about mental health, and by inspiring people to talk openly about their challenges and successes in seeking treatment and getting better. The website is available to people in communities across Texas, and we are actively engaging partners to join the movement and say it’s okay to talk about mental illness just like any other disease.

Q: What has it been like to move with your family to Texas? It’s been almost two years, right?

We have been living in Dallas now for almost two years, though I’ve been working in Texas for 15 years. My family and I love being in Texas. The people here are pretty special and the opportunities amazing. Coming from Michigan was a big move for my family, and we’re very appreciative of how welcoming people have been. Texas is a wonderful state to live and work in.

Q: When it’s your turn to pass on the leadership of the Institute, what do you hope will be its legacy under your tenure?

I hope to see that the work of the Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute has helped Texas become known for having the best places anywhere for the treatment of mental illness, just the same way people think of MD Anderson as the place to go to nationally for cancer treatment. I hope that someday any parent with a concern about their child’s health and well-being would know exactly where to go for help in any community across the state and not feel worried about asking. And I would want them to be able to talk about their concerns with their friends and neighbors, and maybe even have folks at church make dinner for a few nights when the treatment is going through a rough patch, just like folks would for any other child fighting a dangerous illness.

Celebrating Two Years and Looking Forward

The Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute marked the beginning of its third year with a look back at its remarkable trajectory since being founded in 2014. The Institute’s first year solidly established its leadership and team infrastructure, priorities, and reputation as a trusted resource. Its second year concentrated on statewide policy work, community engagement projects, and the launch of Okay to Say™  – a grassroots movement to talk openly about mental illness and eliminate barriers that stand in the way of people getting care for a treatable disease.

84th Texas Legislature Highlights

From January 2015 through May 2015, MMHPI found itself substantially engaged in the Texas legislative process on a number of fronts. CEO Tom Luce’s appointment by Speaker Straus to the Sunset Advisory Commission placed the Institute directly into legislative work while the state’s health and human services agencies were under review. Broad positive reform was brought to the agencies and to behavioral health in particular.

Observers agree that there was a heightened level of discourse surrounding behavioral health this legislative session. Partly attributed to Sunset but also because advocates, institutions, and legislative leaders better understood the fiscal and societal benefits of a modern behavioral health system.

To see the full array of key legislation that was signed into law and a deeper review of the 84th Session of the Texas Legislature, visit the MMHPI blog.

Two important interim activities emerged following the session. Rep. Four Price (R-Amarillo) and Rep. Joe Moody (D-El Paso) are leading the House Select Committee on Mental Health created by Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio). The Senate Finance Committee, under the leadership of Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound), is monitoring the new Texas Statewide Behavioral Health Plan it required multiple state agencies to create.

Statewide Community Engagement Highlights

The Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute is a resource for any Texas community, county, or region interested in facilitating local systems change around its mental health services. The Institute provides technical expertise in behavioral health care and system analysis, as well as guidance to assist diverse stakeholder groups align goals and address challenges specific to their community.

By the end of 2015, the Institute was working with local partners in: Houston/Harris County, San Antonio/Bexar County, Dallas, Austin, Fort Worth/Tarrant County, El Paso, Denton County, Tyler/Smith County, Midland, Amarillo, Waco, Beaumont-Port Arthur, and the Rio Grande Valley. Projects have spanned a wide range of activities including: detailed analysis of needs and available services, evaluation of existing mental and primary healthcare systems for integrated services, analysis of criminal justice systems to improve mental health assessments or establish mental health courts, the development of a behavioral health workforce initiative, and the creation of local Behavioral Health Leadership Teams.

Okay to Say™ Movement Highlights

From the latter half of 2015, the Institute began planning for the 2016 launch of Okay to Say. The initiative is a community-based movement to dispel the stereotypes surrounding mental illness by making it okay for people to talk openly about their experience just as they would with any physical illness. In the process, the initiative aims to increase public awareness that mental illness is treatable, and to encourage people with mental illness to seek the support and help they need and deserve.

Combining the excitement of celebrity testimonials and the dynamics of social media exchange, the hub of the movement is the website. There, individuals can join the movement with options to add their name to the support wall, share an experience, or leave a message of support. A section also lists partner organizations and supporters for people to find more information and treatment resources. Within hours of its launch, Okay to Say gained national media attention and the movement continues to grow in social media.

Other Milestones

Within this dynamic year, the Institute also strengthened its infrastructure. It welcomed experts in the fields of veterans’ affairs, children’s mental health, and criminal justice to the team, named its first mental health policy fellows, launched a summer internship program for undergraduate and graduate students, opened satellite operations in Austin and Houston, and transitioned its leadership.

On January 1, 2016, Andrew Keller, PhD, assumed his appointment as Chief Executive Officer. Founding CEO Tom Luce continues to serve on the Institute’s board. Under Dr. Keller’s leadership, the Institute is well positioned to support state decision makers, to expand community engagements to improve the quality and delivery of localized treatment, and to establish Texas as a national leader in the best practices of mental health care.

Make it Okay to Say™ in May

Participate in National Mental Health Awareness Month at

The month of May is associated with renewal, growth and hope, appropriate for the designation of National Mental Health Awareness Month in the United States. Each year, mental health advocates use the month to focus attention on mental health issues to raise public awareness and remove barriers that prevent people from seeking help for a treatable disease.

Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute is joining its partners and supporters to promote the importance of Mental Health Awareness Month as an opportunity to spotlight the mental health needs of families and communities in Texas.

  • 3 in 4 Texans have a friend or family member that has experienced a mental health issue.
  • 9 of 10 Texans think it’s harder to talk about mental health rather than physical issues.
  • 3/4 of Texans agree more education would make them feel more confident about discussing mental illness.
  • 2/3 of people with a diagnosable mental illness do not seek treatment.

The Institute hopes to change those numbers by letting people know that it is okay to talk about mental illness just as with any physical disease.

That is why we are encouraging individuals and organizations in communities statewide to join the Okay to Say movement in May.

When you do, you will be adding your voice alongside Mark Cuban, Emmitt Smith, and fellow Texans who believe it is time we all talk openly about mental illness and to support and encourage our loved ones and others to seek care when needed.

Launched in March 2016, Okay to Say is a community-based movement initiated by the Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute to increase public awareness about how mental health issues affect Texans, as well as to help people voice the challenges and successes they, their loved ones or friends encounter when they seek help for these treatable diseases.

To join the movement, simply visit and add your name or share a story or message of support.

We hope watching the videos, reading the comments on the support wall and social media, and learning more about the mental health resources provided by our partners will inspire people to invite their friends, family, companies, and groups to join the Okay to Say movement as well.

Also, be sure to visit the site often to follow the community momentum and look for information and updates about coming events later this year including a Satellite Media Tour and more celebrity announcements.