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Despite Challenges Ahead, Philadelphia’s New Head of Behavioral Health Optimistic

After a five-month search, the city of Philadelphia has picked David Jones to lead its Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services.

Jones served as deputy commissioner for four years under Arthur Evans — who left the department in February to lead the American Psychological Association.

In his new role, Jones will face some pressing issues, including the opioid epidemic and increased need for treatment services.

Despite those challenges, Jones said he wants the department to be proactive in its approach to serving those with addiction, intellectual disabilities, or mental illness.

“We want to support people prior to their illness and their disability having a negative impact on their life whenever possible,” he said Friday.

With this vision, Jones follows in the footsteps of his predecessor, who invested in prevention programs such as mental health first-aid education, which allows people to recognize early signs of mental illness.

Among Jones’ early priorities will be addressing the issues laid out by the mayor’s opioid crisis task force. The department has already increased the number of treatment slots available, as well as access to medication-assisted treatment, he said.

But for him, good treatment means a network of support.

“People are connected to housing, issues around food insecurities are addressed, and — most importantly — that people are connected with their natural support systems, because we know it’s those relationships that are really really critical,” Jones said.

The department has nearly 800 employees and a $1 billion annual budget.