How Allina Health's CEO launched a fight against mental health stigma

After watching a friend struggle to get mental health services for a child, Minneapolis-based Allina Health President and CEO Penny Wheeler, MD, helped launch an initiative to make employees more aware of the stigma surrounding mental health, a news post from the American Hospital Association reveals.

Dr. Wheeler asked employees how Allina Health could help reduce the stigma their mental health and addiction patients face. The nonprofit, 12-hospital health system has 27,000 employees.

"It was really amazing to see how quickly that spread and [how] impactful it was," said Paul Goering, MD, Allina Health's vice president of clinical care, mental health services. "We saw pickups in our mental health recruiting efforts as people thought, 'I want to work for a company that asks questions that mean something.'"  

Allina invited employees, patients and community partners to a meeting to discuss solutions tailored to the health system's needs.

Before launching the initiative, called "Be the Change," Allina gathered 2,300 survey responses from employees to evaluate stigma perceptions.

The health system saw significant improvement in all questions in a survey distributed a year later.

"Prior to this and to Dr. Wheeler's entrance into leadership, I'd say mental health was pretty invisible within the organization," said Joe Clubb, Allina's vice president of operations, mental health services. "So giving us permission to speak was extremely important."

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