A few weeks ago, our deputy director, Mimi McFaul attended and spoke at the Healthier Rural West Summit in Salt Lake City – a meeting of the minds seeking to take on the challenges presented in meeting the public health needs of the West’s rural communities. Over 400 people representing rural healthcare providers, leaders in technology, business and government gathered for talks, panels, interactive sessions and networking for a common goal. On her return flight, Mimi articulated the excitement and optimism that came out of the event, as well as its deep relevance to work she’s done in the past:
“As we hit cruising altitude on my flight back to Colorado after attending the Healthier Rural West Summit, I was struck by the parallels in addressing rural health challenges and the innovation opportunities we focus on at The National Mental Health Innovation Center. This inaugural event, the brainchild of Dr. Phil Polakoff, was designed to mobilize cooperation and action to move from “crisis to well-being” in rural communities across our country. Dr. Polakoff is a pragmatic visionary, with an inspiring and no-nonsense style – and he’s seeking commitment and action in effectively launching a new player in the movement to improve health in the rural West.
This summit marked a collision between my focus on rural mental health systems improvement for the first decade of my professional career, and my current focus on how technology can enable and scale proven solutions in mental health. It felt like going home. Back to my roots. Many of the tensions around mental health capacity in rural communities, with their unique resource and geographic realities have not changed. But neither has the practical creativity of those who live in and love rural and remote areas of our country. One thing has shifted though – the opportunities around technology have evolved significantly beyond telehealth and the electronic health record that dominated discussions related to technology and rural mental health in the early 2000’s. Today, a perfect storm is brewing. This perfect storm is a result of the convergence of need, readiness, and creativity that is calling for the mental health field – as the end-users of technology solutions – to be involved in the development, implementation, and scale in a way unparalleled in the history of our field. Dr. Polakoff and his initial band of believers have a passion to improve health in rural communities – and they came to play. And that means a commitment to action for those who are “in.” Players of any type are welcome as long as they bring collaborative energy that laid the foundation for this convening and the precedent it sets for the future.”