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.