At Alliant, we understand that high-quality mental health care is essential. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), 43.8 million American adults experience mental illness in a given year – and each one us will be impacted through our friends and family.
In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, we sat down with Tod Citron, Alliant’s executive director of behavioral health, to discuss the evolving mental health industry and Alliant’s role in improving the quality of care patients receive.
Tell me a little about your background? What originally drew you to behavioral health?
I’ve been drawn to the helping profession for as far back as I can remember. I earned an MSW from Atlanta University when most of my friends were getting their MBAs. I’ve always had a strong interest in the clinical aspects of care, as well as the organizational and financial components of the health and human services field. To further my knowledge on the industry, I earned a second master’s degree, from Mercer University’s School of Business and Economics, in healthcare administration.
My background and education working first as a front-line clinician, and then in health and human service operations management helped build my path to becoming the CEO of a large 500-employee community behavioral healthcare organization where we served 15,000 people annually in a variety of dynamic and innovative programs.
In the past several years, there seems to have been a shift in the mental health stigma, toward a more positive, accepting climate. How has the landscape changed since you entered the field?
I consider this period in time to be the golden moment of behavioral health care. I believe there is more widespread acceptance and recognition about the importance of good behavioral health services being available in our communities and in our country – more than ever before. The reality is that we all know individuals – whether they are family members, friends, co-workers, etc. – who’ve had to cope with a mental health issue or an addiction. When someone falls through the cracks, the results can be catastrophic. I’ve lost a couple of good friends to suicide, and the aftermath is devastating. The pain lingers forever.
When left unaddressed, a mental health issue can exacerbate an individual’s co-morbid illnesses – driving up the overall cost of care and increasing the suffering they endure. These are diseases of the brain and they require treatment. Mental health parity laws are now in place to ensure that insurance coverage for behavioral health care is equivalent to that of medical coverage. We’re now living in a day and age when integrated care – with primary, chronic and behavioral components – is gathering steam as an expected form of healthcare service delivery.
As the executive director of behavioral health at Alliant, what are your main job functions?
Alliant already operates successfully in the behavioral health space, and it’s an area of Alliant’s business that is growing – due to the reputation of our outstanding team, organization and work product. The governing board and our CEO, Dr. White, understand the vital importance of behavioral health and know it will become even more so, as the future of mental health care evolves. I will play a critical role as a member of the Alliant team to forge the strategy and direction of our future behavioral health endeavors.
What role is Alliant playing in the behavioral health space?
In partnership with health plans and other stakeholders, Alliant works to improve the quality of behavioral health services that patients receive. Our clinicians and quality improvement professionals collaborate with providers to enhance care coordination, improve outcomes and ensure member access.
Alliant also collects and analyzes data on behavioral health service delivery to offer feedback to health plans – helping to inform provider education and quality improvement efforts.
Why did you join Alliant, and what excites you most about our work in behavioral health?
The leadership team has made a concerted effort to ensure that Alliant is a healthy and dynamic work environment. And their strong focus on cultivating a positive culture is very apparent, in my opinion.
As a long-time behavioral healthcare Medicaid Rehabilitation Option and developmental disability Medicaid waiver provider, I was very well versed and experienced in that side of Alliant’s business. I had no prior QIO- or ESRD-related experience, but I’ve thoroughly enjoyed learning about our operations in those areas. I also enjoy building creative and collaborative programming in a financially sustainable manner, and the Alliant environment presents the opportunity to be able to do just that.
For our work in behavioral health, I’m most excited about the growth we are experiencing in this area of our business. I look forward to helping the organization progress further into the ever-changing behavioral health space.