Attacking the Stigma: One CEO's Approach to Pediatric Behavioral Health

Attacking the Stigma: One CEO's Approach to Pediatric Behavioral Health

As Tim Robinson settles into his new role as CEO of Nationwide Children’s Hospital, he defines his focus on treating pediatric behavioral health with the help of community partnerships.

Over his 24-year career with Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, Tim Robinson has held a variety of roles in the hospital’s administration—most recently executive vice president and chief financial and administrative officer. Last month, he took over as the hospital’s CEO, replacing retired CEO Steve Allen, M.D.

Children’s Hospitals Today caught up with Robinson to discuss his new role and strategic vision for Nationwide Children’s.

During your tenure as chief financial officer, you helped drive innovation and growth at Nationwide Children’s. How is your transition to CEO going so far?

Very well. Dr. Allen and I have worked together for the past 13 years, and we've had a nice, organized transition period.

I think the board saw we were on a great trajectory. We feel like one of the things that really differentiates us is our culture and our understanding of the Columbus community, the relationships with the other providers and our strategic plan. I feel very blessed to be given this opportunity.

One aspect of that strategic plan is a significant commitment to treating pediatric behavioral health. What is Nationwide Children’s doing to address this issue?

One in five children has a significant behavioral health issue that needs to be treated. Only about half of them are getting treatment and that gap seems to be growing. Our community recognized that and saw us being in a position to try to tackle that.

It's not something that any one institution does, but we're doing that in partnership with all the providers in this community and trying to bring people together. We’re making significant investments in expanding access, focusing on prevention and doing the research to figure out how to best treat and build resiliency in children.

There are a lot of efforts going on here; we have a very robust strategic plan. One of the manifestations of that is we are building a 380,000-square-foot behavioral health pavilion that includes emergency services and crisis services, inpatient care, a day hospital and ambulatory services, as well as research. And that is just the hub for what is a much broader distributed model where we need to be out in the community and providing the right services at the right place in the least stressed way possible.

The stigma of behavioral health is a universal challenge in effectively providing treatment. What kind of efforts are you making to address this concern?

One simple thing is we're building this pavilion on our main campus—just like you would a cancer hospital or a heart hospital—to say that this is important. This is something we need to be treating like any other disease and really leaning into it.

The other significant effort we have in terms of attacking the stigma is our On Our Sleeves campaign. We have a marketing program designed to break the stigma to improve education and raise support for research. We've been investing significantly and have seen our community rally around that—and we’re seeing it in the support we're receiving from a philanthropic perspective. I don't think any of us, five years ago, would have thought you could raise money for behavioral health, but we're finding it to be one of those areas that's most attractive to donors.

As you look at the overall landscape of pediatric health, what do you see as the biggest challenges and how best can children’s hospitals address them?

An obvious challenge is the majority of us have a very high Medicaid mix—53 percent of the children we see are on Medicaid. Although Medicaid funding has been below our cost, we need to make sure we're protecting that and our government is making the appropriate investments.

There's an incredible return on investment to society if we can help support healthy and prospering children to reach their full potential. We need to be able to make that argument and to advocate effectively—we're always making sure that we're well-positioned and providing value. Delivering high-quality, safe care with real value is where we’ll be able to shift toward a reimbursement model that focuses on health and wellness and keeping kids well in the first place.

Then you have the disruptors that will come. We must always be on the cutting edge and finding new treatments and cures—whether it's in genomics or gene therapy, regenerative medicine, cell-based therapy. There's just so many exciting areas that we need to be able to advance and to really make sure that we're delivering those advancements to the kids.

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