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Behavioral Health Commissioner Discusses Mental Health Challenges

Ayana Jones Tribune Staff Writer

David T. Jones brings his passion for serving others to his new post as commissioner of Philadelphia Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services.

Jones is a behavioral health administrator with more than 25 years of management experience. He is charged with leading a $1 billion agency that serves as the mental health safety net for thousands of Philadelphia residents.

“This work aligns very much with my belief in faith,” Jones said during an interview at his Center City-based office.

“It allows me to serve, that’s why I am passionate about the work. I think that given how we are structured as a department it allows us to provide a network that connects people to the services, supports and treatment that could absolutely make a positive difference in their lives.”

After a five-month search, Mayor Jim Kenney named Jones as the new commissioner in July. He previously served as acting commissioner, following the departure of Arthur Evans, Ph.D, who left to become president of the American Psychological Association in February.

“From the growing opioid crisis to the pain and hardships often associated with mental illness and intellectual disabilities, DBHIDS has been at the forefront to help our most vulnerable citizens, “ Kenney said in a news release.

“It takes a hardworking and compassionate person to lead an agency with so much to do and so many to serve. I’m proud to say we found such a person in David T. Jones. He has the knowledge, the vision and the ability to lead DBHIDS and ensure that those in need receive the best service and treatment possible.”

Jones joined the agency in 2013. Prior to serving as acting director of commissioner of DBHIDS, he spent four years as deputy commissioner. In that role, he provided oversight to the department’s fiscal and administrative operations. Before coming to Philadelphia, Jones served as chief of Behavioral Health and Crisis Services for the Montgomery County (Maryland) Department of Health and Human Services. There, he administered a wide-range of diverse programs addressing child and adult mental health, substance misuse, crisis center, victims assistance and consumer services.

During a discussion with the Tribune, Jones addressed how the department is addressing the challenges of substance abuse and opioid addiction in Philadelphia.

“We really want to serve people while they’re well, as much as possible,” said Jones who earned a master of science in community school/clinical child psychology from Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville.

“On a continuum you tend to have wellness, health and illness. A lot of our funding really has been on the latter part of the continuum – illness – so what we want to do is to move further up the continuum and help people to remain well,” Jones explained.

Jones leads DBHIDS at a time when Philadelphia is grappling with an opioid epidemic. More than 900 people died due to opioid overdoses in 2016. Experts are predicting that this year’s deaths due to opioid overdoses will surpass 2016’s numbers.

Under Jones, leadership, the DBHIDS will work to implement the recommendations set forth by the Mayor’s Task Force to Combat the Opioid Crisis.

“I think they are kind of big system, broad strategies that will eventually have an impact,” Jones said.

“Part of that is we know that there is the addiction to opioids actually begins as a result of physicians prescribing opioids as painkillers so there is a concerted effort to work with physicians to say, be really cognizant to how you are prescribing (medications) and lets curb the number of prescriptions as much as possible,” Jones stated.

“For those who have substance abuse disorders we really want to make sure that our system is welcoming, no matter what door they come in.”

He said historically people who were facing addiction issues were often steered toward detoxification first.

“That could be one way to enter into the system,” he explained.

“Another way is you can go into a halfway house and you could have your withdrawal management happen at a halfway house. You could also continue to have your medication assisted treatment paired with your outpatient treatment and that puts you on a continuum where you don’t necessarily have to leave one place to go to another.”

DBHIDS is also addressing the epidemic by mandating all opioid treatment programs to offer all forms of medication-assisted treatment, including methadone, buprenorphine and naltrexone and initiating planning for the development of a 24/7 walk-in center where individuals can receive immediate stabilization in the outpatient setting and get access to further treatment.

Earlier this month, DBHIDS partnered with the School District of Philadelphia to place social workers in schools to help identify the needs of children and families and provide referrals for behavioral health and treatment opportunities at 21 district schools and one charter. The new initiative rolls out during the upcoming school year.

This is part of the agency’s efforts to expand its services in the community.

“What you’ll see down the road is we will increase the number of crisis response centers serving children and families, we will increase the number of mobile treatment teams and as part of that whole continuum we are expanding services in schools, “Jones added.

The department will also be working with its system partners to provide services and support for those who are in need of housing.

As Heroin Deaths Mount, Philly Gets New Leader in the Fight

by Claudia Vargas, Staff Writer

With Philadelphia confronting an unprecedented opioid crisis, Mayor Kenney has confirmed a new leader for the department charged with leading the fight. David T. Jones, who has been acting commissioner of Philadelphia’s Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services (DBHIDS) since January, may now remove the “acting” from before the title.

Kenney announced Friday that after a five-month-long national search for a new commissioner, Jones will be the department’s new leader. Jones replaces Arthur C. Evans Jr., who left in January to become CEO of the American Psychological Association.Jones, 52, will oversee the department, which has a $1 billion-a-year budget and nearly 800 employees. The agency is charged with managing the city’s mental health services, addiction treatments, and disability services for adults and children.

“This agency and its dedicated staff are closely involved with some of the most pressing issues facing our children, adults, and families, including the growing, sad to say, opioid epidemic and responding to individuals who are homeless and dealing with substance misuse or mental health challenges, Kenney said during Friday’s announcement.

When Kenney announced Jones’ name to a standing room only crowd in the Mayor’s Reception Room, the room broke out in cheers and applause. Jones is said to have a lot of supporters within the department.

Kenney said Jones has “the knowledge, the vision and the ability to lead DBHIDS and ensure that those in need receive the best service and treatment possible.”

Jones has been with the department since 2013, serving as a deputy commissioner before he was tapped to fill in as acting commissioner in January. As deputy commissioner, Jones oversaw the department’s fiscal and administrative operations. Prior to his time at DBHIDS, Jones was chief of behavioral health and crisis services for the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services in Maryland.

At the announcement Friday, Jones praised the staff at DBHIDS.

“These folks have great acumen. They have tremendous skill sets and they are certainly committed to serving Philadelphians,” Jones said. He also said he looked forward to continuing to work with the various city departments such as police and health to address the many needs of the city.

At the public forefront of the issues is the opioid crisis. More than 900 people died last year from opioid overdoses, a 30 percent increase from 2015. This number of fatalities this year is expected to surpass last year’s numbers.

Jones’ department will be responsible for implementing the recommendations brought forth in May by the Mayor’s Task Force to Combat the Opioid Crisis. Jones said Friday that work has already begun by increasing the number of treatment slots available.

“It’s going to be a continued work in progress,” he said of the rollout of the task force recommendations.

Brittany Borden

Brittany Borden

Monica Lewis-Wilborn

Monica Lewis-Wilborn

Andrea L. Brooks, MSW, LSW

Andrea L. Brooks, MSW, LSW

Nicole Connell, M.Ed.

Nicole Connell, M.Ed.

Peer Culture Support and Leadership Report Launch (POSTPONED)

Note: This event has been postponed. Additional information will be added once the event has been rescheduled.

DBHIDS is pleased to announce the completion of the Peer Culture Report, A Decade of Peer Culture, Support and Leadership: Igniting Behavioral Health Transformation in Philadelphia. Please join us as we launch the peer culture report and a new web-based Peer-Support Toolkit

You will learn about the recent changes to DBHIDS’ Strategic Planning Division. Learn about DBHIDS Peer Culture and Community Inclusion Unit: Who we are and what we do. Learn about the analysis of impact of a decade of peer culture, support and leadership in Philadelphia. Lessons learned and future direction of Philadelphia systems transformation.

Learn about DBHIDS’ new web-based Peer-Support Toolkit and how to use it for:

  1.  Preparing the Organizational Culture
  2.  Interviewing and Hiring
  3.  Service Delivery
  4.  Supervision and Retention


Commissioner Evans Named Philadelphia ‘Power Person’

philly-winner-badge-1Commissioner Arthur C. Evans, Ph.D., has been named the winner of the 2016 Philly Happenings List in the Power Person category. The award is sponsored by Philly Happenings, Philadelphia’s premier digital magazine. The Happenings List is the city’s People’s Choice competition, voted on by the people of Philadelphia, and features all of the best Philly people, places, businesses, and events.

Dr. Evans was nominated for the Philly Happenings Power Person award due much in part to his leadership, commitment, and innovation over the past decade to transforming Philadelphia’s behavioral health and intellectual disAbility service system.

The other nominees for the Philly Happenings Power Person award were Elicia Gonzales, executive director of GALAEI, and Josh Kopelman, partner and founder of FirstRound Capital.

In addition to Dr. Evans’ win in the Power Person category, DBHIDS also won in the category “Best Outdoor Event” for our National Depression Screening day events in October.

Sandy Vasko

Sandy Vasko

Lawrence Real, M.D.

Lawrence Real, M.D.


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