Burning Questions: Coming together for kids' health Systems join forces on Catalpa mental services 9:22 PM, Apr. 2, 2012 | Written by Larry Avila Post-Crescent business editor Executives representing the Fox Cities major health systems say the most effective way to address mental health issues in children and adolescents is to join forces. This was among the factors that drove Appleton-based ThedaCare, Affinity Health System in Menasha and Children's Hospital of Wisconsin to form Catalpa Health, a new independent organization. Travis Andersen, president of Affinity's St. Elizabeth Hospital in Appleton; Dean Gruner, president and CEO of ThedaCare; and Cindy Christensen, president and COO of Children's Hospital of Wisconsin, on Thursday discussed the initiative on Newsmakers, The Post-Crescent's weekly issues program. Here's an edited transcript: What was behind forming Catalpa? Andersen: I think if you go back, this is the second generation of this program. The change really came from the 2011 LIFE study, which indicated the need for children's mental health services. We're challenging the community to take a different approach. We started with one good model and it evolved into what can we do better than what we're doing today. I think the new model lets us go all in, so to speak. Why is it right to do this now? Gruner: If you don't work in health care, you may say that the services available for (adolescent mental health) is disorganized. There are a multitude of services today. The way we practice today, our primary care physicians are our front line and seeing the issues that come up. Our pediatricians and family doctors also are playing dual roles now. Will be able to refer patients to this service if they need more advanced care. Is there a particular issue Catalpa will initially address? Christensen: Nationally, there is a need for pediatric mental health services. In Milwaukee or even in the Fox Valley, this need is not unique. What we have is a better solution than some other places. I believe that the suicide rate (among teens) is an issue of concern. As many services and resources that are here in the Fox Cities, the community believed we didn't have enough and what was here was not organized in a way that someone could easily find. What is it about the Fox Cities that fosters collaboration? Andersen: I do believe this works in the Fox Cities because we have a history of working together collaboratively in the community. As a community, we tackle issues head on. Affinity and ThedaCare, for example, have a great track record of working together. Gold Cross Ambulance is a good example of a great care joint venture that's more than two decades old where we came together to benefit the community. How do you plan to get the word out about Catalpa's services? Christensen: (Children's Hospital) already is serving a lot of children, but we're also turning a lot of children away. We only have a certain number of providers. We hope as we become more efficient by banding together, we can serve more people. We will be working with schools and primary care physicians so I don't think there will be any shortage of finding people who have needs. Can Catalpa's services lead to improved care access? Gruner: I think so. When you start working with people with other organizations, now what happens is it opens the doors. We see every day a variety of health problems facing the country, so there are opportunities. Since Catalpa's formation was announced in February, what has been the response? Christensen: Primarily the buzz is, "Thank you for tackling this issue." It's not a great profit margin. But for the schools, primary care providers, moms and dads out there, the conversation has been thank you for continuing to put time and resources into this issue. Is Catalpa patterned after another business model? Gruner: Pediatric mental health is a financial loss for everyone. What everyone is trying to do is lessen the loss. A number of systems across the country are exiting this business for financial reasons and I can understand those financial reasons. That's a shame because where that is happening, those kids also need support. The current model only is giving access to half the children who need mental health services. We're losing about $2.3 million (annually) on providing this service. With this new model, the hope is we can improve the financial performance so we can reduce that loss to $1.7 million by pooling our resources. We will be able to service more children. So we're not doing this as a profit center. When we're asked why would we tackle this, the simple answer is because it's the right thing to do. Can you give us an update on the organization? Andersen: We've assembled a board of directors. The community leadership is a starpacked group of people. The first item for the board will be implementation and getting a new leader on board. There will be more for us to do in the development of a new company for the next six to nine months. Will the new leader shape the organization? Gruner: In general, the mission will be shaped by the board, but the management team with the president in place will have a lot of work to do. It's a hybrid organization but not a complete start-up because it's taking existing services from three organizations and bringing it into one. It's really about rallying the troops and getting people to work together and create a synergy. Children seem to be under more pressure today than in the past. Is this driving more need to launch Catalpa? Christensen: Mental health needs come from so many different areas. There are pressures children are under today, pressure to get good grades, pressure to perform well in sports. Cyber bullying really is becoming an issue. It's a natural to do this now. Life just seems harder now than it used to be. Where did the name come from? Andersen: Catalpa is a strong, sheltering tree. When we did surveys with parents, they don't want to take their child to a mental health center or center with a name that's clearly defined what the services are. The idea of changing the name all together and not giving it a health system name gives it a unique identifier to people. It demonstrates naming something totally different so that there are no barriers and no stigma associated with it. What happens now and moving forward? Gruner: I hope we will be able to see more kids and that we're better equipped. So when you think of care, in life if we do it well early and prevent illness, what people want is better care and to save money. Christensen: The case workers want the system to work better. They are finding themselves doing wasteful things and would rather be taking care of children and adolescents. If we can pull this together and manage it in a way where we optimize everything where everyone can optimize their skill sets, ultimately the providers will be more satisfied and will be able to attract more providers to come work for us. Andersen: From my perspective, if we can bring this together, this community model, having people work together to take care of patients, it will show other providers across the nation that this is the place to be to retain top talent when it comes to adolescent behavioral health.