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Adventist News Online| AdventHealth Explores Behavioral Health Trends, Solutions at Conference on Mission

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Event’s theme reflected on how to confront challenges in the communities it serves.

Nearly one in five American adults lives with mental illness, according to the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health.

This alarming statistic was shared by Jennifer Wandersleben, CEO of Acute Care Services for AdventHealth’s Central Florida Division – South Region and chair of the Behavioral Health Steering Committee, during the health system’s 30th annual Conference on Mission. The virtual conference, held September 18-19, 2020, was attended by AdventHealth Board members, executives, behavioral health experts, mission and ministry leaders, and Seventh-day Adventist Church leaders from across the country.

Conference on Mission is an AdventHealth tradition, an annual gathering to reflect and explore how the organization is living its mission of “Extending the Healing Ministry of Christ.” This year, the focus was on behavioral health.

“We are determining how we’re going to put behavioral health in the community in a way that, first, reduces stigma,” AdventHealth President/CEO Terry Shaw said in his opening remarks. “AdventHealth cares for about six million people a year, and I am clear that there are so many unmet mental needs. So, the focus of this mission conference is how we can bring wholeness and peace of mind to our team members and to those we serve.” 

On the first day of the conference, attendees watched a special presentation of the groundbreaking theatrical drama, The Manic Monologues, which brings real stories of mental illness to life. Attendees also heard accounts of mental illness and discussed what actionable steps should be taken to address it.

“Each year, we approach Conference on Mission with the intent of focusing on the real needs of our patients and communities through the lens of our mission,” Ted Hamilton, chief mission integration officer for AdventHealth, said. “Our goal is to study, plan, and operationalize our strategy in a manner that ministers in a practical way, and that brings glory to God in the process.”

Following the presentation of The Manic Monologues, two workgroups led by the Behavioral Health Steering Committee members presented their progress on an AdventHealth behavioral health plan, one for primary care and the other for employees.

The primary care workgroup shared some additional alarming trends, one of which touched on suicide, which ended the life of an individual every 12 minutes in 2017. A study in 2014 showed that 45 percent of those who died by suicide were found to have seen their primary care physician within the previous 30 days.

As part of their presentation, the primary care workgroup outlined a three-point approach to behavioral health:

  • Assessment: embedding screenings into health-care touchpoints
  • Access: improving access to provide prompt and effective behavioral health interventions
  • Outcomes: tracking outcomes to ensure patient improvement

Near the end of the conference, the Collaborative Care Model (CoCM) was presented as a clinically proven way to integrate behavioral health into primary care in a way that addresses the three focus points.

On the employee side, leaders announced the launch of a new internal campaign, titled “’Fine’ is Not Fine,” designed to increase awareness, improve access, and address the stigma surrounding team members’ use of behavioral health resources.

Conference on Mission 2020 also included the traditional awards ceremony, which honors individuals for their exemplary service. This year’s award recipients were:

Christian Service Award

  • Wanda Escoffery, director of nursing for AdventHealth for Children
  • Anna Coridan, AdventHealth Shawnee Mission

Trustee of the Year Award

  • Suresh Desai, AdventHealth Daytona Beach
  • Bill Jarrett, AdventHealth Sebring

Crystal Angel Award

  • Bruce Christian, president/CEO for AMITA Health Adventist Medical Center GlenOaks and AMITA Health Adventist Medical Center Bolingbrook
  • Mike Schultz, president/CEO for the West Florida Division

To close, Gary Thurber, president for the Mid-America Union Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, preached a Saturday (Sabbath) sermon that touched on his sister’s struggles with alcoholism and mental illness. His message was based on 1 Corinthians 4:10: “Our dedication to Christ makes us look like fools” (NLT). He ended by thanking AdventHealth for being “foolish” enough to confront behavioral health challenges and other issues, even though it’s not financially rewarding — a hallmark of a non-profit, mission-driven organization.

“I’ve had more than one person tell me that I am not in the ‘right field’ of health care — that ‘there is no money in behavioral health,’” Jennifer Lyons, director of behavioral health for AdventHealth, said. “We take a different approach. … If your plans are with God, plan big.”


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