Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation — the nation’s largest nonprofit substance use disorder (SUD) treatment provider — has named its first non-white president and CEO.
Joseph Lee, a 45-year-old, South Korean-born doctor, has been promoted into the position and this summer will take over for current leader Mark G. Mishek, who is retiring after 13 years on the job. When Lee steps into the role on June 28, he will also be the first doctor and youngest person ever to lead the 72-year-old organization.
“I’m a homegrown leader,” Lee told reporters during a press conference-style interview Thursday afternoon. “I’ve learned from some of the best. … I just hope that I can live up to that legacy and continue that.”
Headquartered in Center City, Minnesota, Hazelden Betty Ford has 17 locations and counting, in addition to a slew of other business arms focused on topics such as addiction education, research and publishing. It offers inpatient and outpatient care for SUD patients of various ages, and it partners with insurance companies to make treatment affordable.
Lee is currently the medical director for the organization’s Youth Continuum, a position he’s held since 2010. After immigrating to the U.S. as a child, Lee went on to gain citizenship during his medical residency in 2002. Today, he is a physician board certified in adult, child and adolescent psychiatry, as well as addiction medicine.
One of Lee’s top priorities in the new role is to advance Hazelden Betty Ford’s diversity, equity and inclusion efforts. A common criticism of the behavioral health industry as a whole is that providers in the space are often homogenous and rarely reflect the diversity of the populations they serve.
Lee said he’s committed to doing more to address that problem at Hazelden Betty Ford.
“We’ve always been an organization that has spoken for the marginalized,” he told Behavioral Health Business. “But we also recognize that … that advocacy was for a very narrow demographic. That’s a very humbling admission, and we take it on, and we accept it.”
Fixing that means adding more diverse employees and leaders, as well as creating a pipeline for development and working with different communities in new and creative ways, Lee said.
“It’s full steam ahead from here,” he said.
Lee isn’t the only one with diversity on the mind. The topic — and how behavioral health providers can do better — also came up during a recent webinar put on by the National Council for Behavioral Health.
Based on panelists’ advice, it seems like Hazelden Betty Ford is headed in the right direction when it comes to improving diversity on a larger scale.
“It is important that not only organizationally, but at the board level that leadership reflect the workforce as well,” Carolyn Petrak, associate executive director for the Ability Network of Delaware, said during the virtual event. “If we’re talking about trying to recruit a more diverse staff, that starts with a more diverse leadership.”
In addition to improving diversity, Lee aims to improve access to care in his new role as CEO. That will include fostering partnerships and collaborations, as well as continuing to expand virtual care, he said.
Those have been areas of focus for Hazelden Betty Ford for a while now.
Organizational leaders such as Bob Poznanovich, VP of business development, and Joseph Jaksha, publisher for Hazelden Publishing, both recently highlighted Hazelden Betty Ford’s plan to expand virtual outpatient care into all 50 states. Currently, the offering, RecoveryGo, is available in 13 states, with the organization planning to plant virtual flags in a couple states per month until it achieves national scale.
“The whole telehealth space will be where most of our future growth comes from,” Poznanovich previously told BHB. “We will be able to treat more patients in new ways and help other providers treat new patients in new ways as a result.”
Meanwhile, Lee reiterated that, saying it’s all about increasing the number of people able to access care. While he said he’s bullish about the future of telehealth, some plans are dependent upon whether federal and state governments decide to keep virtual care flexibilities in place post-pandemic.
“In the future, we have to think creatively about healthcare legislation and some of the regulations,” Lee said. “I hope some of these solutions stick around, and that we don’t all go back in silos when the pandemic passes. That’s going to be really key to our growth.”
Lee will also focus on adding innovative new offerings across the spectrum of care and existing priorities such as fundraising, construction and other goals, he said.