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“Today is about the story of ‘us.’ How can we work together across sectors and across organizations?”

The final plenary panel onstage at Putting Care at the Center 2023Sheryl Mathis, Director of Technical Assistance at the Camden Coalition, set the stage for the final plenary of Putting Care at the Center 2023 by introducing three leaders who are building a city-wide public health strategy to meet Boston’s growing behavioral health needs.

Kevin Simmons, MD, is Boston’s first Chief Behavioral Health Officer. “What we see locally is exactly what’s happening at a national level,” he said — a rise in mental health crises across the population, challenges with kids and young adults returning to schools after the COVID pandemic, and a struggling behavioral health workforce.

Sheryl Mathis and Kevin Simmons laugh onstage at Putting Care at the Center 2023Boston, though, is responding with an unusual level of coordination across the city’s public sector. Kevin was joined on stage by Jenna Savage, Deputy Director of the Boston Police Department’s Office of Research and Development, and Jenna Parafinczuk, Director of Social Work for the Boston Public Schools. The three have been collaborating closely to ensure that Boston families are connected to the supports they need to both respond effectively to mental health crises and to prevent them from happening in the first place. “We’re trying to match services to needs,” said Jenna Savage, “and using data to figure out what’s happening behind the crises.”

Conference attendees laugh together at the conference BeehiveEarlier in the day, attendees caught glimpses of dozens of other burgeoning ecosystems of care through workshops and in the conference Beehive. In California, for instance, the statewide CalAIM initiative has created new avenues for funding and partnerships to address things like household food security. In Pennsylvania, Pathways to Housing PA has been spearheading improved access to Sublocade, a long-acting treatment for opioid use disorder, among its clients. In Michigan, relationship-centered training is helping to build an ecosystem of care focused on early childhood health and well-being.

Eighty percent of workshops at this year’s conference included at least one presenter with lived experience of complex needs.

CAC members at a conference workshop“Complex care is different,” said Carter Wilson, Director for the Camden Coalition’s National Center for Complex Health and Social Needs and the event’s virtual emcee. “At the core of our work is connection, is relationships. Those relationships, those connections are care. They are healing.”

After all, building an ecosystem of care, Sheryl noted, isn’t just about organizations connecting. “It’s about the relationships you’ve built as people.”

CEO Kathleen Noonan raises her arms at the close of the 2023 conference“All of this tremendous work is built on a foundation of trust and collaboration,” said Mark Humowiecki, Senior Director for National Initiatives at the Camden Coalition, in his closing remarks. “Hopefully you’re leaving with a little bit of that infusion of hope and belonging. We’re all part of the complex care community that is at the vanguard of health justice in this country.”