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UNHS welcomes Rick Hendy as Behavioral Health Director

UNHS welcomes Rick Hendy as Behavioral Health Director

Officials at Utah Navajo Health System, Inc., recently welcomed a new Director of Behavioral Health to their staff, and their choice of individuals to fill that position seems to have been inspired by destiny.

When Rick Hendy was still in college, he wrote a paper that dealt with the Indian Self-Determination Act, not realizing that he would someday play an integral part in the future of an organization that embraces the concept of self-determination under Public Law 93-638.

"I feel like I've been preparing to come to work in the community here for the past thirty years, and to live in this community with this lifestyle. We very much look forward to being able to live here," Hendy said. "When I pulled out my paper (on self-determination) it was an eerie feeling, actually reading that. My wife couldn't believe she was reading what I wrote thirty years ago. It's just as relevant as it was when I wrote it. The opportunity to come her is not just an accident."

A native of California, Hendy left home to work with the Salvation Army, in Alaska, when he turned 18. After spending three years in Alaska, he decided he wanted to go into the field of behavioral health and enrolled in Brigham Young University to begin his studies. He said BYU had the best Native America Studies program in the country at that time, and he made many Native friends during his undergraduate days in Provo. Later he attended Arizona State University and worked his internship in the Pima Maricopa Indian Community. Following his graduate program at ASU, Hendy was recruited to work in Fort Duchesne, Utah as the Mental Health Coordinator for the Tribe, Bureau of Indian Affairs and Indian Health Services.

In 1985, Hendy began working for the State of Utah as a Community Mental Health Therapist and Clinical Supervisor. He spent ten years working at the State Hospital, where he created innovative programming, some of which is still in practice today. He was also named Manager of the Year for the Department of Human Services. His next stop was for the Utah Department of Human Services Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health, where he spent the past ten years. During that time he led a team that monitored the public mental health system in Utah, and helped develop major policies for the State to help reduce tobacco usage, and help people receive services in a person-centered planning format. Most recently, Hendy has been involved with the State's suicide prevention program.

"I have been so impressed with Byron Clarke at UNHS and the hiring practice. He said that if there are things I can contribute at the State level, UNHS wants to support me in that because it helps our communities. So once a month I may attend a meeting in Salt Lake City," Hendy said. "What an organization to think that way, you know. It benefits all our residents."

Hendy said he just happened to be in San Juan County last July for a training with some trainers from the State of Georgia. He said this wasn't something he normally did, but in this case he was here for the training and several members of the UNHS staff were in attendance.

"I was so impressed with the UNHS employees, who attended, and I was made aware that there might be an opening, and I thought, maybe the time is now," Hendy explained. "Part of my job was monitoring public mental health each year, and I'd learn more about UNHS and I was very surprised over the years to see how it had grown. I heard stories about the comprehensive medical and behavioral health services they were offering.

"I've seen other healthcare organizations cutting back in terms of employees and cutting corners on services they offer. At the same time it seems UNHS is fiscally strong and the quality of services is better than what I see in the state, not just coming from a behavioral health standpoint, but I know places in the state where people never have access to dental health care and eye care and glasses, and it seems like people in the communities here, through UNHS, are actually getting some pretty good care."

Hendy and his wife, Susan, recently retired from the State of Utah. Susan was an RN at the State Hospital for thirty years, and Rick is quick to proclaim that Susan was the first RN to actually work her way up into a manager's position at the State Hospital. He also notes that last April, Susan was called to the State Capital, where Governor Gary Herbert presented her with the state's Humanitarian of the Year Award. Susan is also employed at UNHS, where she is working in the Coding Department, helping make the documentation process more fluid and efficient for all providers in the UNHS system, Hendy explained.

The couple has ten children, between them, and the youngest recently left on a mission. Rick and Susan are both avid hunters and both have had good luck bagging cow and bull elk in San Juan County. Rick said they cut up and process their own meat. They also enjoy hiking, exploring and ATV riding.

Hendy said he wants to focus on two main areas as Behavioral Health Director at UNHS. First, he wants to see the department truly integrated with the clinics so that any provider that makes a referral to behavioral health can expect a clear process and expect the person they are referring will be seen for assessment, and screening in timely manner. And follow up treatment will be given as needed.

Second, he hopes to see that community members can expect the same type of treatment, whether they are self-referring, or have been encouraged to go seek treatment by a family member or doctor. He said they will be welcomed, and greeted in timely manner and have an appointment.

"We want to offer the best behavioral health services, we want to offer the best of mental health services, we want to offer the best of substance abuse disorder treatment, and treat issues with families," Hendy stressed. "We want to be able to have rapid, ongoing consultation with a person's medical provider, when it's called for because we know that things like depression can really effect a person's overall health. It can actually shorten their life. But we also know that hope is real, recovery is possible and these treatments we have work."

Hendy was excited about what he called a groundbreaking announcement, that mental health services and substance use disorder services now have full parody with other healthcare treatments.

"What that means is most insurance plans, as well as Medicaid, will now be required to cover these behavioral health services at the same levels and at same expenditures as any other healthcare service, which is very good news," Hendy said. "I hope that will even increase more access to these services for people. We hope also that it helps bring down the stigma because even in big systems, where people might have health plans they just barely cover mental health services, or don't cover it at all, and now there's true parody. That's a good thing."

Hendy also noted that UNHS will provide these services in a culturally competent manner, meaning providers need to be aware of cultural issues. They need to be aware of how either the symptoms of mental illness might be interpreted or considered from a cultural standpoint, as well as being aware of treatment consideration from cultural standpoint.

Finally, Hendy said it is impressive to him to see so many dedicated, top-notch people working with the best equipment. But not only do they provide quality health care, he added, but Blue Mountain Hospital and UNHS provide an economic boost to the entire county.

"I'm impressed with the excellent clinical care. I'm impressed with the friendliness and helpfulness of the employees, but also with their professionalism. And overall, it feels like UNHS has a vision of the future and it's growing. The people I'm meeting that are coworkers are all a part of that vision. And that's important," He said.

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