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Annual Healthcare Outlook focuses on mental and behavioral health

The crowd and panel at this year's Healthcare Outlook
KSMU/Chris Drew
The crowd and panel at this year's Healthcare Outlook

A panel of leaders from the Springfield-Greene County Health Department, Brightli and Arc of the Ozarks shared their experience tackling mental and behavioral health challenges in the region.

Hundreds of area leaders in economic development and healthcare came together Wednesday for the annual Springfield Business Development Corporation Healthcare Outlook.

Attendees of the event spent time networking, eating lunch and hearing from a panel on the topic of mental and behavioral health in the region. Springfield Greene County Health Department Director Katie Towns was on that panel. Towns said the annual event is important for connecting as a healthcare community. She said the Health Department’s role in the local healthcare industry is convening data and communicating to stakeholders and the public.

“What we do,” Towns explained “is try to reach out to the different partners and make sure that there is a collaborative effort to really focus our resources on those priority areas as much as possible, so that we’re all sort of, moving in the same direction.”

Towns said mental health has been noted as a priority every year since the Health Department began an annual healthcare assessment in 2016. She said need has outpaced resources, particularly given the impact of the covid-19 pandemic and the opioid crisis. Towns also said stigma continues to prevent people from seeking the care they need.

She said people are silent mental health challenges, “and they’re not able to then seek the help that they need because of that stigma."

She was joined on the panel by Tim Dygon of the Arc of the Ozarks Autism and Neurodevelopment Center and Clay Goddard of Brightli, the parent company of Burrell Behavioral Health and Preferred Family Health. Wade Shelton of the AIDS Project of the Ozarks acted as moderator. Dygon said Arc of the Ozarks plans an increase in capacity for diagnosing autism in the year ahead. He also shared that they will soon begin offering MeRT treatment. A method of using magnetic fields to stimulate nerve cells in the brain that can alleviate symptoms of severe autism. Among other things, Goddard shared updates on Burrell’s Youth Resiliency Campus. A six-acre, $14 million dollar facility expected to be completed in 2025.

The panel agreed that a key in addressing mental health needs is getting the conversation started and accepting that it may be messy and uncomfortable. Goddard said he’s excited to be part of a healthcare community taking on that challenge.

"One thing I love about this community,” he noted in closing statements, “we don’t shy away from tough conversations.”

The Springfield Business Development Corporation hosts annual outlooks for various area industries, including healthcare. A 2021 Community Focus report found the entire health care sector in Springfield employees over 37,000 people with an annual economic impact of $4.5 billion.