We are privileged to have the opportunity to work with many individuals who have firsthand experience as clinicians. These experienced individuals work hand-in-hand with our technology teams and clients to make sure we’re delivering solutions that work in real-life … not just the testing lab. They also possess a wealth of knowledge and experience that helps keep our efforts aligned with the needs and goals of our clients.
In this series, we spotlight individuals who have worked in the field and now contribute their skills and experience to our daily efforts at Netsmart.
Denny Morrison, Ph.D., Chief Clinical Advisor
1. Tell us about yourself.
I started college as a music major (percussion) and found out pretty quickly that I wasn’t quite the drummer I thought I was. I switched to chemistry but didn’t really know what I was going to do with that degree. I was putting myself through school and needed to find a job to pay the bills. I got hired as an orderly in a hospital and just happened to get placed on the psychiatric unit. It was there that I felt I’d found my calling. I switched to psychology and pre-med majors and a chemistry minor. After graduation, I immediately started on my first Master’s degree with dual majors in counseling psychology and mammalian physiology. After graduating, I worked for five years as a Masters-level psychologist but saw that I’d have to get my Ph.D. so I returned to school and completed my Ph.D. while at the same time obtaining a second Master’s degree, this time in exercise physiology.
I’ve been interested in both psychology and physiology so when an opportunity presented itself to join the Navy as an aerospace physiologist (the 121st in the history of the Navy), I jumped at the chance. I’ve always been interested in aviation so this provided a great opportunity to combine two of my loves – aviation and physiology. A naval aerospace physiologist trains flight personnel in the physiological hazards of flight, ejection procedures, how to escape from submerged aircraft and survival techniques. In addition, we got basic flight training and got “winged.” I was stationed in Pensacola and San Diego where I trained, among others, members of TOPGUN. I’ve maintained my love of flying and am an instrument-rated private pilot.
I have been married to my wife Marsha for 40 years this December. We have two grown sons, Mike and Chris and a giant schnauzer named Max.
2. Give us some highlights of your career in healthcare.
After working in the psychiatric unit for five years and then working professionally for five years, I knew I was ready for a different challenge when I started my doctoral work. After getting my Ph.D., my first job was a “player-coach” i.e., I was running a small outpatient clinic and seeing patients at the same time. I had a private practice on the side but when I moved on to my next job, director of outpatient services in a mental health center, I stopped seeing patients and focused exclusively on management. My career from there consisted of a series of increasingly larger spans of authority culminating with the CEO position of a mental health center in Indiana.
I served in that position for 13 years until we merged with three other mental health centers forming what is now Centerstone. As part of the merger, we pulled all the research and IT assets of the four merged companies and moved them into a company we created called Centerstone Research Institute (CRI). I served as CRI’s first CEO for four years leaving that organization to join Netsmart. I’ve done a lot of presentation work but the highlight (and the scariest) has been doing a TED Talk challenging common stigma surrounding mental illness and behavioral health.
3. Why did you make the change from clinical work to working with Netsmart?
From early on, I’ve been a fan of technology in general and healthcare technology specifically. In the early days of computing, I taught myself rudimentary coding on a Texas Instruments programmable calculator. I wrote my doctoral dissertation in 1985 on an Epson computer that had no hard drive. It connected with the university computer to run my statistical analyses over a 400 baud modem. When I took over as CEO of the mental health center, I pushed the organization to use technology as a clinical differentiator. We went live with our electronic health record (EHR) around 1996. We wrote the user interface in-house, developed custom mobile applications using Palm Pilots and won the HIMSS Davies Award. We were the second behavioral health organization to do so. I was a HIMSS judge for the first one. So, I’ve sort of lived at the intersection of clinical and technology for a long time so the move to work with Netsmart wasn’t as big an adjustment as it might appear.
4. What makes you passionate about serving the clients/organizations who use Netsmart’s services?
As a psychologist, one of my driving forces is helping others. That’s pretty straightforward when you do direct care work like seeing patients. But that motivation maintained as I moved into management. I always believed that if I could help develop organizations and systems of care that were effective, I would be helping far more people than I could if I saw them in a private practice. So it is with Netsmart. I believe if we can get tools into the hands of clinicians that help them help people, I still have the same clinical impact that initially attracted me to this field.
5. What does your perfect weekend look like?
A beautiful day allowing me to do a long bicycle ride followed by a nice dinner and wine with my wife and kids and their significant others.