New Chief in Town

Physician assumes BHN leadership role

The Behavioral Health Network (BHN) experienced a changing of the guard this past fall, although a lasting legacy will remained carved in stone on a building at the Institute of Living (IOL) as a reminder of greatness.

On October 1, long-time IOL Psychiatrist-in-Chief Dr. Harold “Hank” Schwartz stepped down and Dr. John Santopietro assumed the new role of physician-in-chief for the BHN.

To commemorate Schwartz’s leadership, which transformed the IOL and earned regional and national acclaim, Hartford HealthCare leadership announced the Commons Building on the IOL campus will be renamed the Harold I. Schwartz Center for Education.

“When I think of the Mount Rushmore of the IOL, I think of the names Todd, Burlingame, Braceland and Donnelly — and I believe Schwartz,” said Hartford HealthCare President Jeff Flaks at a September ceremony. “Hank has served here for almost 30 years and has made absolutely invaluable contributions. Hank is our conscience in many ways — he tells us what we need to know, not what we want to know.”

Leaving a mark

While Schwartz deflected the praise offered by many — he credited the entire IOL team, saying “It wasn’t me. It was we” — his contributions to the institution span the decades and include the introduction of a variety of revolutionary programs.

One of the first was the Schizophrenia Initiative, a clinical and research endeavor that eventually led to the creation of the Olin Neuropsychiatry Research Center, which has generated millions of dollars in research funding since 2001.

Schwartz is also credited with launching the Potential Program to help young people showing the first signs of mental illness, the Anxiety Disorders Center/Center for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and The Depression Initiative which earned U.S. News & World Report recognition and led to the re-establishment of IOL residency programs in adult, child and adolescent and psychosomatic medicine tracks.

In semi-retirement, Schwartz plans to continue advocating for behavioral health care, see patients, mentor residents and write.

The new guy

The shoes he stepped into are large indeed, but Santopietro was enthusiastic about continuing the system’s work for people with behavioral health issues. His skill set – adding the perspective of a physician with experience in a variety of systems of care – coincided with a shift in the position’s focus from the IOL to the entire HHC BHN.

“John has a career-long track record of leadership that promotes and embraces servant-leadership, feedback and quality improvement based on standard work,” says BHN President Patricia Rehmer.

In a nation that treats just 40 percent of people with behavioral health issues, Santopietro credited HHC with corralling “extraordinary resources” that he wants to leverage system-wide to reach people across the state. His goal is to breach barriers and deliver care to those who need it.

“The situation as it stands is not okay. The number one need is access. What people don’t generally understand is that we have excellent treatment for mental illness and substance use disorders. If you get somebody into treatment at the right time, 60 to 80 percent will recover,” he said.

Santopietro returned to Connecticut as president and medical director of Silver Hill Hospital after a stint as chief clinical officer for behavioral health and chair of the Department of Psychiatry at Carolinas HealthCare System where he spearheaded the integration of behavioral health practitioners in 70 primary care practices. He wants to continue that work at HHC.

“The rates of depression and anxiety, the rates of hospitalization and emergency room visits and patients’ diabetic numbers all went down,” he notes. “Insurers are starting to see that if they pay for behavioral health, physical health improves and the total cost of care for these patients goes down. They can prevent so much downstream cost and suffering.

“Caring both for a person’s physical and behavioral health helps on both sides. The focus needs to be on integration of behavioral health into primary care but also specialties, emergency departments, inpatient and long-term care. Integration with a capital ‘I.’”

A graduate of Yale University, Dr. Santopietro earned his medical degree from Northwestern University Medical School, completed residency in psychiatry at Cambridge Hospital and a fellowship at the Austen Riggs Center, both in Massachusetts and part of the Harvard system. He has published and lectured extensively, especially on the use of technology to enhance the delivery of behavioral health services.