Anyone scrolling through social media may think about current events and societal problems, but Jason Hooper finds himself much closer to the issues. He leads a team of 1,600 professionals who are working to solve those massive problems head-on. Day after day, they’re tackling the opioid addiction epidemic, increased suicide rates, childhood adversity and other mental health crises in communities across America.

Hooper has successfully navigated his first few years as President and CEO of KVC Health Systems, a leader in behavioral health, child welfare, and community health and wellness. He’s been with the organization 22 years moving from direct care, to management, and ultimately leadership.

Despite the weight of these challenges, whether due to his social work training or the qualities instilled in him by his mother or soccer coaches along the way, Hooper remains hopeful. His conviction is that each of us and our communities are key answers in the larger fight.

We sat down with him for a peek inside the organization.

Behavioral health is a field that many people don’t know much about. What are some of the current themes within behavioral health care?

Mental or behavioral health is an important topic that affects everyone. Some big themes within the field right now are:

Home-based care: Our model is in-home therapy because it is proven more effective. • Substance abuse: We understand that
addiction is a brain disorder; it’s not a moral failure.

Suicidality: Many people feel tremendous emotional pain and hopelessness. One colleague of mine has three friends who experienced a family or friend’s suicide within just a few months.

Care integration: We’re blending primary health care with mental and behavioral health services. There is a relationship between diseases of the body and the way the brain and emotions function.

Data-informed care: We’re using research and data to inform treatment and challenging ourselves to innovate at the speed of science.

Funding: Health care is changing and there are new models for payment and accountability. We’re also able to leverage greater good through philanthropic support.

What is KVC Health Systems’ finish line? How do you define success?

We will keep working until every child, teenager and adult is safe and connected to others. Our finish line is where organizations like KVC aren’t needed anymore. Parents and caregivers have the support and skills to care for their children and families. Abuse and neglect are no longer prevalent. Addiction is not an issue. Trauma and its effects are no longer wreaking havoc on our communities. If we can work ourselves out of existence, how cool would that be?

I don’t know if we’ll ever get there. But one thing we can do is to create care pathways for people suffering from depression or mental illness. If you walk into a hospital with chest
pains, there are immediate protocols for assessment and treatment. In behavioral health and child welfare, we have evidence-based best practices, which are a great start. But the next step is to develop care pathways that can help us assess and deliver the appropriate care at the appropriate time.

What’s a big goal KVC Health Systems is working toward? 

We’ve always focused on improving children’s health outcomes. We accept the tremendous responsibility to address the most clinically and medically complex issues children may be facing.

Just as important though, we are expanding our focus on the prevention of poor health outcomes. Positive behavioral and mental health is the key to overall health. Exposure to adversity in childhood, untreated mental illness, family substance use and addiction, and an overall lack of social supports places our youth on a trajectory to suffer from lifelong health problems. To this end, we are engaged in discussions with other health systems to unlock new possibilities for helping people with complicated medical needs realize better mental and physical health. This is a big problem and is a multiyear strategy for sure, but we want to be a catalyst for the change needed to solve it.

Ultimately, my deepest wish for every child we serve is that they have the capacity to dream. Sadly, many youth aren’t dreaming about their future because they are focused on their day-to-day survival. But as we help children and families experience safety and build connections, they can begin to imagine a brighter future where anything is possible.

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