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Philly’s New Head of Behavioral Health: We Want to Help Improve Grad Rates

by Paul Jablow

David Jones, the new head of the city’s behavioral health system, has a two-word description of what will be at the top of his personal report card in evaluating his work with the city’s public schools: “Graduation rates.”

Jones, named in July as commissioner of the Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services (DBHIDS), says he wants to keep expanding the department’s role beyond helping students with learning disabilities and mental health issues to include helping with overall school climate.

Graduation rates, he says, will be the best measure of success.

As part of this change, his department, the City of Philadelphia, and the School District of Philadelphia announced recently that full-time social workers would be placed in 22 public schools in a pilot program that would be expanded to include other behavioral health workers.

Although many city schools now contract with private providers who offer behavioral health services in the School Therapeutic Services (STS) program, their social workers generally focus on a subset of students in their program.

These new social workers, by contrast, are employed by the city. They will train staff and generally promote overall practices to improve student and teacher well-being, while also offering help when individual students exhibit problems.

Specifically, they will provide Tier 2 behavioral health interventions while STS provides Tier 3 interventions. District officials say they hope the pilot program will be better able to provide more prevention services and reduce the need for crisis responses.

Tier 3 interventions are directed at students with diagnosed behavioral health disorders or symptoms of them.

Tier 2 interventions are directed not only at those students, but also at students considered at higher risk than their peers of developing behavioral health disorders.

(Tier 1 interventions are directed at the entire class.)

Jones, who holds a master’s degree in community school/clinical child psychology from Southern Illinois University, had been serving as acting commissioner since February, when Arthur Evans left the department to head the American Psychological Association.

Jones came to Philadelphia from Montgomery County, Maryland, as deputy commissioner in 2013.

He says that efforts to boost school climate and student achievement can’t stop at the school building.

“We want to do even more prevention than we’ve been doing,” he said in a recent interview. “Looking at the entire family unit. The system is ripe for more change.”

Jones explained that the department’s funding is “primarily around treatment,” which means that a behavioral or psychiatric issue has to manifest before triggering intervention.

“We do have some portions of our funds that allow for prevention, intervening on education around [for example] substance abuse disorders.”

But, he says, “It’s about more than emotional health. … It’s about stable housing, food security, financial management. So many things happen in the home, in the community. … We want to work with other partners and stakeholders.”

And he says it’s particularly important that the department’s efforts to combat substance abuse among adults – who can be parents or caregivers – connect to its efforts to help students.

“Healthy children tend to be connected to healthy adults,” he said. “We’re in the middle of an opioid epidemic. A number of those people who are experiencing a substance abuse disorder are parents. We have to have someone doing more coordinating work while that parent is getting the treatment they need.”

That can involve getting another family member or responsible adult to “provide guidance and support for the child. … That’s something we’re looking to do more of in the future.”

One approach that might be expanded, he said, is the use of “care coordinators” to work with entire families. Many families have multiple providers. One child might have a learning disability, another a behavioral health issue. A parent or guardian could be a substance abuser or might have bipolar disorder or another issue requiring medication.

The coordinator can tie together all the services.

City Councilwoman Maria Quinones-Sanchez, a frequent critic of DBHIDS, cited this problem in a recent interview.

“A family can have three providers who aren’t speaking to each other. It’s totally unacceptable. No one’s monitoring what’s working,” she said.

The pilot deals with that issue by having the workers employed by the city and reporting directly to principals and the District.

Jones feels that the department has a “robust” system of evaluating its contracted providers that work inside the schools. But he adds that there is a need for an overall review of the main programs – including STS, Behavioral Health Rehabilitation Services, and Family Based Services – to take a fresh look at what is working and what isn’t.

“We’ll look at pay for performance,” he said. “We’ll look at consumer satisfaction surveys … what’s working in other school systems, what services should continue, what should evolve and change.”

Addressing problems before they become chronic

Before the latest initiative, which is called the Support Team for Educational Partnership (STEP) project, no new city behavioral health workers had been added to the school system, with the exception of a short-lived and unsuccessful pilot program (the Community and School Support Team Initiative) in five schools, according to Karyn Lynch, the District’s chief of student services.

Lynch said in an interview that she hoped that the District would be able to place more emphasis on “trying to address [student behavior] issues before they become chronic.”

Jones said he also wanted to expand training for school personnel in dealing with student behavioral issues through programs such as Mental Health First Aid.

He noted that School District Superintendent William Hite was recently added to the board of Community Behavioral Health, a division of DBHIDS that coordinates school behavioral health services.

“We have a great partnership with Dr. Hite right now,” he said.

He said that his department has behavioral health workers assigned to more than 100 District schools, a little less than half the total. Students in some other schools also receive behavioral health services, according to department officials, but these workers are not assigned to individual schools.

Jones said it was too soon to determine when and how the latest initiative might be expanded.

But school officials in Baltimore, whose programs Jones says he is very familiar with, have been pleased with the results of a recent pilot program putting behavioral health workers in schools full time.

Aimee Hoffman, a school-based mental health clinician in an elementary school in Baltimore, attributes her success partly to the fact that she is there every day, seeing children not just for weekly sessions but also to ask in the hallway how they are doing, encourage them, give them a pat on the back.

“It’s knowing [the children] more in-depth,” she said, “seeing how they interact. Being there full-time makes a huge difference.

“When you’re in a school part-time, you miss things and you’re not as visible to the teachers. When the teachers see you every day, you catch those extra opportunities to be supportive.”

Fixing Philly – Caring for Those Leaving ‘El Campamento’

Today, Monday, July 31, the city and Conrail, will begin clearing out a Kensington site known as “El Campamento,” a camp that leads to a half-mile area along the railroad tracks that have long been a haven for heroin users looking to shoot up and hide from police.

As detailed recently in Time magazine, the area has been a problem for city officials and local residents for years until the city recently formed an agreement with Conrail that would see the area cleared by the end of this month. On Friday, city officials said that as this week’s clean-up gets underway, the city will also provide a temporary social services hub to help those struggling with addiction at the site at least until Wednesday, July 2.

But, what happens after that?

According to David T. Jones, the newly appointed head of the city’s Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services, Philadelphia has capacity at its shelters for any heroin user who sees the end of El Campamento as the first step towards rehabilitation.

“We have capacity in our system to meet that need. Right now, we have capacity across the board,” he said, saying his office has been working with Conrail to anticipate the needs of those that will be pushed out of that area.

Jones’ department is funded to the tune of about $1 billion a year and, along with addiction services, the department manages the city’s mental health services and disability services, as well. And, that’s important, because, Jones said, it takes a rounded approach to be able to address issues of opioid addiction.

Along with needing to kick a drug addiction, Jones said, those who might have regularly visited El Campamento will likely need, what he called “social determinants,” which would include shelter, nutritional needs and food security and help building healthy relationships. To do this, he said, his department is set to help connect those who come to them for help breaking the cycle of opioid addiction with the many different organizations that work with the Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual DisAbility Services.

“We have been really thoughtful and we are really going to try and make all of those connections across life’s domain,” Jones said, for those leaving El Campamento.

Also, he said, a big part of helping rehabilitate someone who is coming out of an addiction to an opioid like heroin is helping them find a support system – something he called ‘families.” And, he noted, that sometimes, “families” don’t mean just a person’s blood-related kin.

“We are trying to connect them to some type of family unit,” said Jones. “We have families that we are born into and we have families that we create. We are talking about families in the broadest sense.”

Finally, when asked if the controversial topic of safe injection sites were an idea that might help Philadelphia combat its opioid crisis, Jones said that his office is now looking at new strategies to make a dent in the problem, and safe injections sites are an idea that they are considering.

“We are looking at all strategies that will help people in their recovery and safe injections sites are one of those strategies that we are looking at,” he said. “We are exploring that as a strategy.”

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.

David T. Jones Chosen to Lead Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services

Contact: Monica Lewis-Wilborn, Director of Communications

PHILADELPHIA, PA — After a five-month search, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney announced the appointment of David T. Jones as Commissioner of the Philadelphia Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services (DBHIDS), a $1 billion healthcare agency with nearly 800 employees.  Jones had been serving as Acting Commissioner following the departure of Dr. Arthur Evans, who left to become president of the American Psychological Association in February.

“The Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services addresses some of the most challenging issues and critical needs facing our city and the people who live here. 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. “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.”

Prior to serving as Acting Director of DBHIDS, Jones spent four years as Deputy Commissioner. In that role, he provided oversight to the department’s fiscal and administrative operations. Prior to his time in Philadelphia, Jones was Chief of Behavioral Health and Crisis Services for the Montgomery County (MD) 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.

As a behavioral health administrator with more than 25 years of progressive management experience, Jones has produced measurable results to improve the lives of children, adults, and families with behavioral health needs. He possesses in-depth knowledge of state and federal regulations inclusive of Medicaid managed care and mental health rehabilitation standards and has excelled in managing both urban and suburban public behavioral health systems that achieved outcomes inclusive of increasing access to care and expanding the range of services available to residents with behavioral health care needs. Additionally, he has national experience developing multi-disciplinary coalitions to affect sustainable community-level change.

Such experience will be helpful as DBHIDS is at the forefront of key initiatives for the city, including the Mayor’s Task Force to Combat the Opioid Crisis. Under Jones’ leadership, DBHIDS will be carrying out work to implement recommendations brought forth from the task force to serve those impacted by opioid misuse. The department will continue to be involved in the cross-sector response to other issues, including homelessness and multi-dimensional supports for youth in the city.

“I’ve had the great pleasure to work with DBHIDS and its dedicated staff since 2013. So, I know first-hand what we can do to ensure the well-being of children, adults, and families in this great city,” said Jones, who earned a Master of Science in Community School/Clinical Child Psychology from Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville.

“I am both humbled and excited to be at the helm as we continue innovative and impactful work, especially as we aim to address the opioid crisis and provide the highest quality of services to our most vulnerable citizens, including our children,” Jones added.

Eva Gladstein, Deputy Managing Director of the City’s Health and Human Services Cabinet that includes DBHIDS, praised Jones for leading DBHIDS in an acting capacity and expressed confidence in his ability to manage the department during such a critical time.

“I’ve had the opportunity to work closely with David and am convinced there is no better leader for DBHIDS today,” Gladstein said. “We conducted a national search and many of those we considered for this role have the intellect and experience required for the position. David stood out, however, as a leader with integrity, charisma, and an extraordinary ability to connect vision, people, and ideas to implement the quality service and programming needed to positively change lives and communities throughout Philadelphia.”

To learn more about Jones, please visit his profile page in the Leadership section of

Philly Gets First New Behavioral Health Commissioner in 12 Years

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The Philadelphia Department of Behavioral Health has its first new Commissioner in 12 years. City officials didn’t have to look far to find him, but they did anyway.

Long-time commissioner Arthur Evans left in February to become head of the American Psychological Association and the city spent nearly six months conducting a national search for a successor.

In the end, Mayor Kenney chose the deputy who’s been the acting commissioner since Evans left.

“And that person is David Jones,” he said.

The choice got a standing ovation from providers and employees of the billion dollar agency who packed the mayor’s reception room.

Jones outlined plans for tackling perhaps the toughest issue in his portfolio, the opioid epidemic.

“I’m confident the recommendations put forward by the mayor’s task force will be implemented and we’ll bend the curve,” he said.

Jones says the department has already increased treatment slots and medically assisted treatment.

The department also deals with homelessness and intellectual disabilities.

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.

Team Highlights and Communications Archive

Team Highlights and Communications Archive

Team Highlights

June 2018 Edition of At Our Best

May 2018 Edition of At Our Best

April 2018 Edition of At Our Best

March 2018 Edition of At Our Best

February 2018 Edition of At Our Best

December 2017 Edition of At Our Best

November 2017 Edition of At Our Best

September 2017 Edition of At Our Best

August 2017 Edition of At Our Best

July 2017 Edition of At Our Best

June 2017 Edition of At Our Best

Early April 2017 Team Highlights

Mid-March 2017 Team Highlights

Late January 2017 Team Highlights

Messages from the Commissioner

May 24, 2018

Feb. 26, 2018

Dec. 20, 2017

Aug. 23, 2017

July 28, 2017

June 28, 2017

May 24, 2017

March 29, 2017

March 22, 2017

March 15, 2017

March 8, 2017

March 1, 2017

Feb. 22, 2017

Feb. 15, 2017

Toward a Trauma-Informed City: Challenges and Opportunities in Philadelphia

After many months of interviewing, editing, more interviewing and more editing, “Toward a Trauma Informed City: Challenges and Opportunities in Philadelphia” will be launched next week.

A group of leaders who have adopted trauma-informed practices were interviewed about their experiences recognizing trauma as an issue, what they decided to do about it, and the change they have seen from the work of their organization. These 27 leaders come from public health, behavioral health medicine, education, child care, and criminal justice.

They include Dr. Kenneth Ginsberg, professor of pediatrics at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania; Dr. Arthur Evans, commissioner of the Philadelphia Department of Behavioral Health and Disability Service; Carol Tracy, executive director of the Women’s Law Project; Dr. John Rich, professor of health management and policy, Drexel University Dornsife School of Public Health; Dr. Patricia Gerrity, associate dean for Community Programs, Drexel University College of Nursing & Health Professions; Altovise Love-Craighead, captain, Philadelphia Police Department, 16th District.

As a way of bringing some of that knowledge and history—and future—to a broader audience, the Dornsife School of Public Health, through the HRSA-funded Mid-Atlantic Regional Public Health Training Center, put together the video and a webinar to introduce it.

The project will officially launch with a webcast on May 31 hosted by Dr. Sandra Bloom, psychiatrist and associate professor at Drexel University Dornsife School of Public Health, and creator of the Sanctuary Model. The webcast will provide an overview of trauma, the history of making Philadelphia a trauma-informed city,  and motivation for the interviews.

The experts provide insight on what changes still need to be made in public policy and advice for service providers in other cities and communities that would like to get involved in trauma-informed care.

Register for the the webcast here. The final product will be hosted on a website whose link will be provided after the webcast. It will include the teaser, montage videos of each of the five questions, and links to all 27 of the edited videos.