Amid pandemic stress, Burrell Behavioral Health doubles down on ‘hope and healing’ for clients, staff

Long before the coronavirus, hope and healing were common themes at Burrell Behavioral Health. But as the pandemic ensued, the company extended its helping hand even further to not only its clients but also to its employees across Missouri and Arkansas.

Burrell Behavioral Health is being honored with one of the inaugural Kindness in Business awards in the Kindness to Employees category. The awards recognize businesses and organizations that have shown and promoted kindness during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Learn more about the Kindness in Business awards and meet the honorees.

Burrell Behavioral Health is a Columbia-based network of community mental health centers that provide care to children, adolescents, adults and families. Its services range from therapy and counseling to crisis intervention and addiction recovery.

Its staff of about 1,800, which is made up of counselors, administration and clinicians, aimed to continue to provide mental health services and be accessible even as the pandemic progressed. In fact, Burrell Behavioral Health saw a 25% to 30% increase in clients seeking its services this year from March to September compared to that same period in 2019, according to C.J. Davis, Burrell’s CEO and president.

Davis said the company has been working toward including telehealth technology for its care, so Burrell Behavioral Health was well-equipped when the pandemic and its effects hit.

Davis spoke with Missouri Business Alert about Burrell Behavioral Health and its response to the pandemic. Answers have been edited for length and clarity.

Missouri Business Alert: What is Burrell Behavioral Health’s mission?

C.J. Davis: We are what is known as a community mental health center. There are about 3,000 community mental health centers across the country, and Burrell is one of the largest ones. Our history is that we are a safety net provider for any individual in the community that would need service regardless of their ability to pay. So our mission is to really develop hope and healing through partnerships in our community and to make sure we are developing and offering accessible behavioral health services with high quality.

MBA: What special efforts or adjustments has Burrell Behavioral Health made during the pandemic?

CJD: The pandemic has been interesting for all businesses. We, like most businesses, have been required to be adaptable and flexible and meet the needs of not only clients but the needs of 1,800 employees who may be experiencing psychological distress and are required to deal with change. One thing we talk a lot about is flattening the curve. And there’s this first curve that was coming down the pike, and that was the COVID curve with all the physical symptoms we were experiencing as a society. But there’s a second public health curve. And that second curve is the mental health crisis.

At the very beginning of the pandemic, we all felt a sense of commitment to our employees because the real question you ask yourself, in a business of relationship is: Who is taking care of the caretakers? And so one of the things we did was we wanted to develop our own, unique internal support system for our providers: our psychologists, our doctors, our nurses, our social workers and our staff. And so we started out with a one-time-per-week live Zoom for employees, where we went through some of the brain science behind meditation, relaxation and self-care. And that really morphed into what we now call our Be Well Community, where we offer a free live Facebook event for anybody in Missouri and beyond where we walk you through the science of how to caretake for yourself. And I think that has been a wild success.

We also made several pivots. We sent about 700 of our employees to work at home remotely. We shifted our care to almost 90% virtual. And we did some other things I thought were really creative and important in terms of sending a message to our employees that we really care about you. One, our leadership teams created a vacation or PTO donation bank. Those who have exhausted their paid time off or sick days could apply for hours donated by our executive team over the course of the pandemic. We also created a joblink, and that was really unique because we had to suspend some of our programs temporarily. And for those employees, rather than laying them off or furloughing them, we created what we entitled a job link where we had open positions that they could apply for and be transitioned temporarily until their program was no longer suspended. What was really unique about that program was that we also allow spouses who lost their job, not at Burrell, to apply for temporary work here as well.

MBA: How does your business try to embody kindness?

CJD: What’s really interesting is, when you think about our clients, people entrust our organization to come through our doors, when they have the courage to come through our doors, and we journey alongside them. Every single client has a story, and those clients need our support. And as our mission statement offers, we are the business of offering hope and healing. And we believe we should also have that very same philosophy with our employees. Every employee has a story. Every employee needs hope and healing, and every employee needs to feel that their employer supports them.

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