5 Things Arizona: ADHS keynote, 988 insight, Technology & behavioral health


Eli Kirshbaum


We were thrilled to host our final conference of the spring season in Phoenix last month! We’re very happy with how the event went and were so grateful to see so many faces from different areas of the state and its health sector come together for such meaningful conversations.

Our talented AV team made a recap video of the event, viewable here.

See more coverage of the conference below. Thank you for supporting State of Reform!

Eli Kirshbaum
State of Reform


1. Morning keynote: An update from ADHS leadership

We were honored to kick off last month’s 2022 Arizona State of Reform Health Policy Conference with a conversation with leaders from the Arizona Department of Health Services, who discussed the Arizona Health Improvement Plan, the agency’s work to address the social determinants of health, and other updates on Arizona’s public health leadership.

“The integration of health equity everywhere in everything we do, as our first thought, is so critical as we move forward,” said  Sheila Sjolander, Assistant Director of the Division of Public Health Prevention Services. Watch the full keynote with Sjolander, Carla Berg, Deputy Director of Public Health, and Victor Waddell, PhD, here.


2. Stakeholders say Arizona is prepared for 988 implementation

Behavioral health experts at a panel at last month’s conference discussed how 988 will create a more patient-centered crisis response system. The new system will work alongside the state’s current crisis response system, putting the state in a well-prepared position for a high volume of calls.

David Covington, CEO & President at RI International, said it’s critical for Arizona to respond to behavioral health emergencies with the same urgency as medical emergencies, and to separate behavioral health emergency responses from law enforcement and traditional hospital emergency departments. “988 and mobile crisis services and directly accessible crisis facilities give us a way to let 911 and hospitals do what they do—respond to overt criminal activity, explicit threats to public safety, and obvious medical emergencies that are not psychiatric in nature.”


3. What They’re Watching: Daniel Seiden, Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry

Along with supporting initiatives to fortify Arizona’s shortage of nurses and other health care workers, Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry President and CEO Daniel Seiden says he’s focused on fighting government mandates concerning health care and attempts to “interfere in the private right of contracting” at the federal and local levels.

“I’m talking about price controls on our pharmaceutical drugs, which will crush innovation and limit access,” Seiden said. “That access is for patients to get life-saving and innovative treatments, so we’re fighting really hard against that …” He added that his organization worked hard with US Sen. Kyrsten Sinema to stop the passage of the federal Build Back Better plan.



4. Telehealth is key to improving BH care uptake, experts say

Increased use of technology is crucial to improving behavioral health care in Arizona, according to BH experts in the state. At a panel about behavioral health policy at last month’s conference, Sandra Zebrowski, MD, Corporate Medical Director of Integrated Care at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona, noted that Arizona has higher-than-average suicide rates and low behavioral health care utilization.

She said her organization has seen an uptake in BH care utilization when provided through telehealth; 57% of BH visits at BCBSAZ are provided through telehealth, and 85% of these patients are satisfied with receiving virtual BH treatment. Shar Najafi-Piper, CEO of Copa Health, encouraged stakeholders to develop technology infrastructure to support greater utilization of virtual BH care. “You have to have tech literacy advances at your organization, so that means get to know your membership and understand what feels good to them as it relates to technology,” she said.


5. Potential reform of Arizona State Hospital governance in the works

Calls to establish independent oversight of the Arizona State Hospital in Phoenix—the state’s only public psychiatric facility—are growing as a bill to do so stalls in the legislature. ASH has faced numerous allegations of patient mistreatment and insufficient oversight over the past decade, including failure to prevent patient suicides and neglecting to provide timely medical care.

The facility is currently governed by ADHS, which advocates say allows the department to shirk off these claims and avoid accountability from the public. SB 1716 would establish an independent 5-member Governance Board to oversee ASH, but the bill has been idle in the legislature since being unanimously approved by the Senate in March. “It’s very simple for the ADHS Director to send an implicit (or even explicit) message to her or his team to go easy on ASH to keep things quiet,” said AZPHA Executive Director Will Humble in a recent blog post. “Indeed, recent complaint investigations of serious allegations often find ‘no deficiencies’. That’s just hard to believe, especially when the fox is watching the henhouse.”