Peggy DeCarlis has always had a passion for health care, and particularly for behavioral health. For the industry as a whole, DeCarlis believes that now “is an exciting time.” With more than thirty years of experience in the behavioral health field, DeCarlis has focused a lot of time and energy on pursuing the best strategies and initiatives to optimize success. She is also committed to ensuring that the future of behavioral health is a part of integrated health care.
DeCarlis began her career in health care in the private sector, with a specialty in family therapy. Seeing many of the psychologists and social workers in action in this treatment setting pushed her toward the path of behavioral health. After that experience, DeCarlis worked for several companies, including Cigna Behavioral Health and Magellan Health Services. She also worked for the governor of Maryland as a deputy secretary in the department of human resources.
When DeCarlis joined New Directions Behavioral Health in 2010, the company had already expanded exponentially. Now, as the senior vice president and chief operating officer for New Directions, she oversees a multitude of fields. In addition to directing clinical operations and customer services, she is also responsible for account management.
New Directions was founded in 1995 and offers services in employee assistance and organizational consulting in addition to its behavioral health services. The company currently works with several million people in Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas, and Florida, with plans to expand elsewhere in the United States, which is where DeCarlis comes in.
“I was hired to come to Kansas City and Help Build an Infrastructure that would not only support growth, but support it by moving the organization from a regional to a national presence.”
With a background in multisite and multistate operations, DeCarlis was the perfect fit to join New Directions as the company continued to grow. “I was hired to come to Kansas City and help build an infrastructure that would not only support growth, but support it by moving the organization from a regional to a national presence,” she says.
As the Affordable Care Act celebrates its fifth anniversary, DeCarlis notes the positive changes that have occurred in the behavioral health field. She also believes that the notion of parity has become a topic of renewed importance within health care. Historically, health insurers have covered mental health differently than other diseases or medical conditions. Over the last few years, many health-care experts have been championing the cause of parity when it comes to behavioral health expenses.
For many years, the United States spent about twice as much money per capita as other developing countries on behavioral health, but was delivering significantly less effective health care. “It was an unsustainable cost trajectory,” DeCarlis says. A firm believer that behavioral health is tied to physical care, DeCarlis finds that her role at New Directions balances both fields, which trickles down to quality outcomes and better experiences.
Integrated care has also been a major focus for New Directions. Only about 7–8 percent of health-care spending is funneled into behavioral health. New Directions believes there is a lot of opportunity to address many needs with the bulk of that spending. The company is successfully moving to be a more “integrated health organization, one that’s not solely in behavioral health,” DeCarlis says. Over the last year, it has implemented a population health focus, looking at high-risk patients and determining how to meet their needs.
DeCarlis believes that one of the biggest hurdles in health care is learning how to provide for high-risk individuals. Currently about 20 percent of health-care spending goes to 1 percent of the population. In many ways, health care is better equipped to treat acute-care episodes, rather than finding ways to manage prolonged health crises. New Directions has used many data-targeting resources to understand how those high costs can be lessened.
DeCarlis is impressed with what New Directions has done in the last few years when it comes to managing that data. The number of experts at the company who understand integrated health care certainly plays a factor. There is a mutual understanding around New Directions that using evidence-based treatment leads both to better care and the best possible outcome.
One of the next goals for New Directions is to work with chronic conditions like congestive heart failure, diabetes, and obesity, and to see the impacts on mental health. It helps identify not only mental illness but also psychosocial drivers. For DeCarlis, the results have already been remarkable. It’s her belief that further integrating care will lead not only to a better health care system, but one that is even more cost effective.
The field of behavioral health has grown tremendously compared to a few decades ago, when many mental illnesses were not even considered medical. DeCarlis and her team at New Directions are excited to take part in transforming the field even further.