Deborah Brodine Confronts the Crisis of Care for Seniors and Teen Mental Health

Deborah Brodine, MHA, MBA, stands at the apex of two critical fronts in health care: senior care and mental health care.

Appointed as president of UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital in 2019, she brings over three decades of experience back to where her career began. Brodine's journey within UPMC has seen her in progressive leadership roles, crafting integrated delivery networks for post-acute and rehabilitation services across southwest Pennsylvania and presiding over UPMC Senior Communities.

As president of UPMC Senior Services, she oversees extensive skilled nursing and senior living programs, alongside home health and hospice services. Her expertise intersects with population health, evident in her partnerships with organizations like the Jewish Healthcare Foundation (JHF), focusing on care model redesign to prevent hospitalizations.

In March 2023, Pittsburgh Quarterly reported on the population problem in the region. Currently 19.7% of Allegheny County's population is at least 65 years old. Only the retirement destination of Palm Beach, Fla. has a greater population of older adults among the largest 40 counties.

Of the aging population, Brodine said without hesitation, "It is a crisis. Not only is the aging population increasing, but the population workforce is decreasing. Older adults are leaving the workforce and need caregivers, and there's not as many people in the younger generation to care for them. It's a double whammy, and it will continue to be a major challenge.

When it comes to mental health, Brodine said the incidence of mental health illness is also increasing, particularly among children and adolescents.And our ability to diagnose and recognize conditions that need care or education about mental health has increased as well.

"One in five people will have a mental health concern in their lifetime, and while that statistic is growing,it continues to be an educational conversation we need to have as a society: how important this work is, and how it's not 'those people over there, it's really all of us,'" Brodine said.

Brodine's passion for community-based care extends to her role in mental health, emphasizing preventative services, and the need to consider the full continuum of care. Despite workforce challenges and the stigma associated with both senior and mental health care, she remains optimistic, citing collaborative efforts and increased public awareness as reasons for hope.

"Very often the workforce shortage is caused by stigma or because of previous public policy. There isn't enough money in the till to pay people what, perhaps we'd like to pay them in order to do this important work.It is unique work, which requires a lot of empathy and compassion, and those characteristics are not easy to recruit for, or to train for" Brodine said.

She emphasizes the importance of addressing stigma, funding shortages, and policy gaps that hinder effective care delivery. With services being funded by either state- or federal-funded health care, conversations with legislators and the community-at-large about the importance of and need for this work are crucial.

"I think we are quickly barreling down the path where everyone has the mutual goal of providing more services in home and community spaces rather than institutional spaces. For anyone who has ever advocated for a loved one, trying to find affordable, quality home-based services can quickly become an unmanageable proposition.There are not a lot of workforce available to provide these services," Brodine said. "We have a need for better advocacy and education about these very real issues that we're all facing."

This is where Brodine's commitment to partnership shines, as seen in her recent appointment to the Board of Trustees at JHF. Through her leadership and advocacy, Brodine continues to drive change in addressing the pressing needs of seniors and those battling mental illness, shaping a more compassionate and inclusive healthcare landscape.

Additionally, growing regional partnerships such as that between Western Psychiatric Hospital, the Department of Human Services, and JHF through the BH Fellow program, as well as partnerships during the pandemic between UPMC, Allegheny Health Network, and other stakeholders to address the impact of COVID-19 on residential facilities for the elderly, demonstrate the potential when the community can come together.

"We've seen success in very deliberate opportunities to work together across different stakeholder groups to come up with cross disciplinary efforts to make things better for our communityThat's the reason for optimism." Brodine said. "No one of us can address this individually. We need to be able to partner with one another. And I think that's, that's where I get my hope."

Having a long-standing relationship with JHF, Brodine said she holds it, President and CEO Karen Wolk Feinstein, and Chief Program Officer Nancy Zionts, MBA in high esteem. She noted Dr. Feinstein called her personally to ask her to serve on the Board.

"I had never thought to ask or inquire (about the Board) so when I was invited by Karen, I was so very honored by that invitation," Brodine said. "I see the beauty and optimism in the Foundation's work and their ability to link arms with other organizations to influence policy and to recognize the needs of society, the workforce, and the community." 

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