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July 17, 2020 By Gary Larcenaire, CEO Valley Behavioral Health

Covid-19 has taken the world by storm. As I sit here and think of what I could say, I find myself at a loss to come up with something that adequately addresses the twisted circumstances of the world today as I feel it. My job is to help lead/inspire hundreds of social services and healthcare employees and contractors through a breathtakingly complex time.

Our teams work hard to ensure that our communities get prompt access to cost-effective care. Communities still need support with some of the most complex situations that addiction, illness and poverty can produce. Even during a pandemic. Unfortunately, the communities we serve are very polarized. Government-led solutions relative to civil rights, pollution, and public health, appear now to only have been marginally effective. Government action alone isn’t the key.

Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) 

Government policy, well-aligned with institutional investor goals, might just be the power combination humankind needs, for a more positive, sustainable future. The foundational principles of ESG-oriented investing might afford the accountability framework we have been missing.

Thanks to a younger generation of professional investors, social unrest, and Covid-19, ESG investing is experiencing a surge in popularity. Where applicable, I believe these principles should be considered for use more broadly across sectors. Socially responsible investing (SRI) has been around a long time. Not investing in companies that pollute, or profit from vice is not a new concept. This means we can look at a well-documented plan and find ways to adapt it to our current needs. Something I love to do.

The concept of “ESG-based investing”, was coined in 2005 in a report authored by Ivo Knoepfel. Ivo’s work made the case that investors could produce greater returns if they focused on investing in companies with strong track records embracing Environmental, Social, and Board Governance responsibilities. Companies with solid corporate citizen ideals, can make for a more lucrative portfolio return.

This finding is important because it reveals the false certainty of an inevitable tradeoff between sustainability, human rights, responsible corporate citizenship, and profitability. If it’s true that ESG-mindful companies are more profitable over time, why should this approach only be used in capital allocation markets? Maybe all companies should evaluate themselves and their partners through an ESG lens.

I have searched, and found no such trend, but can see there is a need. What I have found is that a lot of CEOs are unsure how to navigate right now, not miss a step, and stay relevant. As we all grapple with how we can return to a more recognizable society, we might also take this chance to correct some things that are in desperate need of improvement. All companies can do better, expect more, and educate more and I have a couple of suggestions of how:

For the addiction, psychiatric and counseling world, stigma is an ever present challenge and barrier. My colleagues and I believe that people should be as routinely encouraged to seek behavioral health services, as they might be encouraged by friends to join a gym or get a teeth cleaning. Let’s get over this, and normalize treatment post-Covid.

“Disease is disease after all, prevention is critical, and stigma is as deadly as it is counterproductive.”

Illness is a threat to living a quality life, whether the illness is cardiac or psychiatric doesn’t matter. We believe behavioral health services are as important to general health, like any other health specialty. This is a foundational issue and one that should be acknowledged and respected before we do much, or any business together.

We can, and all should be more clear in our sourcing so there is no conflict around core values. We intend to do just that moving forward, in part by reviewing our sourcing policies. Our employees and customers should feel comfortable that we are not using suppliers with spotty track records in supporting the mental health of their associates.

“Behavioral health companies can support, or not support, certain values and attitudes based upon how we source.”

When we partner with businesses who understand our mission, we strengthen our own ability to improve the communities we serve. The opposite is also true. As individuals, we have choices as to what products we consume and the companies with which we transact business. We can do some research and act accordingly. As employers, we strive to do our best, but the process needs to be more formalized. Little companies are not powerless.

Small and medium-sized companies CAN help to improve human rights through more informed partner selection and an honest, ongoing self-appraisal. We are small, but we are determined.

“At Valley, we will be leading a process to ensure our supply-chain policies are grounded in respect for human rights and environmental sustainability as well.”

Small businesses of all kinds CAN help to improve the environment by knowing our own daily contribution to the pollution problem, accepting responsibility, getting creative, and measuring its reduction over time. We can modify our approach to supply-chain configuration and policy development to determine, and then shrink, carbon output over time.

We can emerge from the challenges better than we were. It isn’t going to be easy. If you need a starting point, a point to re-energize yourself and see the future more clearly, try learning more about the principles of ESG.

 

Some links to get started:

https://www.forbes.com/sites/georgkell/2018/07/11/the-remarkable-rise-of-esg/#26a7d3881695

https://www.cnbc.com/2020/06/07/sustainable-investing-is-set-to-surge-in-the-wake-of-the-coronavirus-pandemic.html

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