The Intersection of Health Administration and Mental Health Treatment
One disconcerting word seems to keep coming up in public discourse about health in the United States: crisis.
An opioid crisis. An obesity crisis. A mental health crisis. The list goes on. These aren’t just hyperbolic headlines either. The crises are very real.
The CDC reports that drug overdose fatalities have quadrupled since 1999. As of 2020, about 42% of American adults are obese. And according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one in five American adults experience mental health issues.
These might seem like separate issues with separate solutions, but what if they’re not? What if they’re all connected by a deeper psychological epidemic, one that requires an integrative approach to treatment that considers both the physical and psychological components of the human condition? What can the nation’s healthcare administrators do to combat an ever-changing foe?
According to Dr. Steven J. Szydlowski, professor and Health Administration Program Director at The University of Scranton, part of the solution may lie in a more integrative approach to healthcare administration and health administration overall.
“I think, unfortunately, our healthcare system has traditionally focused on codes that are tied to physical acute conditions,” Dr. Szydlowski said when he sat down to speak with HealthAdministrationDegrees.com.
What this tells us is that the solution to America’s litany of health crises may rely on a healthcare system that’s willing to adopt a new philosophy and reorient its approach to patient care. This, of course, requires systemic change — change that could very well come from the next generation of informed, compassionate health administrators that promote mental health treatment.
Dr. Steven J. Szydlowski
HealthAdministrationDegrees.com had the pleasure of speaking with Dr. Steven J. Szydlowski, MBA, MHA, DHA, a professor and MHA Program Director at The University of Scranton.
After completing his MBA and MHA from The University of Scranton, he earned his Doctorate in Health Administration and Leadership at the Medical University of South Carolina. In his work outside of academia, he has been an executive at an integrative medicine clinic, a community hospital, and different physician group practices. In his research, he focuses on community health, health care management, and integrative medicine.
How Health Administration Can Emphasize Mental Health
Health administrators can prioritize mental health treatment through the management of mental health services, providers, and facilities. Moreover, administrators act as directors and managers that guide facility policy in a way that ensures counselors, therapists, and other professionals in their communities have the means to provide the highest quality patient care possible.
To do this, administrators carry out a number of important duties within the facilities or broader provider systems they manage. Specifically, they strive to:
- Ensure all mental health providers are appropriately licensed and certified for their roles.
- Staff teams comprised of providers from diverse professional backgrounds.
- Oversee admissions processes and supportive in-patient, out-patient, and aftercare programs.
- Pursue opportunities for continued professional development through classes and seminars.
- Evaluate annual patient care reports and make policy changes when needed.
- Oversee budgeting and departmental spending.
- Foster patient support networks by meeting and collaborating with families, physicians, and outside mental health service providers.
The exact duties may differ depending on the environment and the needs of the provider. But for the most part, their goals are consistent:
- To empower mental health professionals
- To ensure patients get the best care available
- To maintain patient support networks
Importantly, serving as part of leadership teams of healthcare providers with diverse specialties creates more opportunities for health administrators to bring life-changing care to more people and broader patient populations.
Connecting the Dots: How Healthcare Administrators Bring Psychological Wellness into Every Conversation About Patient Care
Before entering his role at The University of Scranton, Dr. Szydlowski held some high-level roles in health administration. He has worked as an executive at physician-led group practices, a community hospital, and an integrative medicine clinic that approached the physical, psychological, and emotional health of patients holistically.
In our conversation, Dr. Szydlowski drew on examples from these experiences to demonstrate how keen-eyed administrators can play a key role in a more comprehensive approach to patient care.
“I always used to tell my medical director and physicians, when somebody comes in with their diabetes, we don’t want to just give them their medicine and say, you know, ‘Here’s how you manage your diabetes type 2,’ but ask them what personal behaviors and lifestyle choices have contributed to the diabetes type 2.”
Dr. Szydlowski found that this approach helped patients open up and start talking about family problems, depression, and even more profound issues like lacking a sense of purpose. It’s these kinds of conversations that consistently prove to be the fertile ground in which patients plant the seeds for the longer-term support they really need.
Consider the example of type 2 diabetes Dr. Szydlowski provided. Type 2 diabetes is a chronic insulin regulation condition often associated with obesity, improper nutrition, and lack of exercise. Keeping it at bay frequently means making drastic lifestyle changes.
But change is never simple, especially for people with chronic health issues. According to a diabetes care guide published by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, diabetics are at a higher risk than the general population for developing depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and compulsive habits.
With that in mind, it’s not hard to imagine how other health conditions can affect a person’s mental health, and vice versa:
- Depression affects up to 23% of cancer patients.
- About 20% of the elderly experience some sort of mental health problem.
- In 2020, 17 million Americans suffered from mental illnesses along with addiction.
These corollaries suggest that people would really benefit from some combination of medical attention and emotional, spiritual, and psychological support. And it’s at this intersection that health administrators have an opportunity to help medical providers of all kinds become bastions of whole-person care — care that touches every facet of a patient’s life.
For example, administrators can organize support groups in hospitals that treat patients with traumatic injuries or chronic conditions. They can ensure nursing home staff know how to compassionately interact with struggling seniors. At cancer treatment centers, they can put patients and staff alike into contact with psychology professionals and spiritual counselors, so the shadow of mortality doesn’t loom over their every thought.
In a way, health administrators can be just as vital to other fields of healthcare as they are to mental healthcare itself. And while the duties may change depending on the population, the compassion and well-rounded care remain central.