Saying YES gives you a path forward...instead of staying stuck.
I’ve had the pleasure of serving Oaklawn for over 35 years, and as CEO for the past 17. Oaklawn is the community mental health center for the Michiana region, providing behavioral health services to over 25,000 individuals every year. In my tenure, I’ve seen many changes, but perhaps none as transformational as in the last two years. To get here, it took our whole team saying YES to a new way of doing things.
Because of this YES, we are now on a path to become a Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinic, or CCBHC, a new federal designation that holds community mental health centers to a higher standard.
This new designation required some significant changes to the way we’ve always done things - particularly around access to services and crisis response.
Nearly a year ago, we launched Open Access, a model that offers walk-in hours daily. While many businesses can offer walk-in services, this was an incredible stretch for our outpatient behavioral health programs. As is typical in this work, we have gathered information upfront and then scheduled appointments in advance – weeks or maybe months later. It was well organized and predictable. Staff were comfortable with the pace and practice. However, it wasn’t very efficient, with a high no-show rate and not particularly responsive to our clients’ needs. The change to Open Access required new policies, processes, job descriptions, and a massive shift in the way we do our day-to-day work. And it’s yielded some incredible benefits.
Getting services at Oaklawn is easier than ever. No longer are clients placed on weeks-long wait lists while their symptoms worsen. When someone is ready for help, we’re here. Every day. And, since Open Access began less than a year ago, we’ve completed over 5,300 assessments, a 25% increase. We’re reaching more lives with essential mental health and addiction services through these changes. We’re responsive to our community’s increased demand for these services, and while it hasn’t been easy, it was the right thing to do.
We’re also rethinking our role in behavioral health crises. Historically, we’ve relied on hospitals and police to be the front-line responders to people experiencing a mental health crisis. However, through launching our own mobile crisis response team, which works in partnership with local 911 and law enforcement, and planned crisis stabilization centers in both Elkhart and St. Joseph counties, we’re taking increased responsibility for this population. We believe we’re the best equipped to manage most of these situations, while yielding better outcomes for those in crisis, and preserving other community resources.
These changes are challenging. They’ve stretched us. In many ways, it would have been easier to maintain the status quo and to say NO to the opportunity to become a CCBHC. But leaders must operate from a posture of YES. It’s about a mindset that’s curious and open to different ways of doing things. It means you have an attitude that’s willing to problem solve and be flexible.
Further, your willingness to say YES shapes your organization’s culture. When you say YES to new, even challenging, opportunities, it affirms your employees’ strengths. It communicates your confidence in them and their ability to grow, plan, problem solve, implement, and succeed.
This is not to say that you’ll never say no – or that you won’t eventually say no. Sometimes that is the appropriate response. But start with yes. See where it takes you. Envision the possibilities. It could lead to the greatest organizational change you’ve ever seen. I’ve witnessed first-hand the difference it makes – not only in an organization, but also in the lives of the people we serve. Our community knows help is here when they need it. Our willingness to say YES changed our work, but more than that, it’s changing lives.