AHCCCS Attorney Ben Runkle receives ASU Behavioral Health Cultural Heritage Award

Ben Runkle, AZ Behavioral Health Award

Within the public health industry, attorneys often craft contracts, policies and legislation that change the health care delivery system and directly affect patient care. Benjamin Runkle, Associate General Counsel for AHCCCS, received the 2017 Arizona Behavioral Health Cultural Heritage Award from the ASU Center for Applied Behavioral Health Policy for his efforts in improving American Indians’ access to behavioral health services.

Across the industry, health care professionals are seeing the improved results of integrating physical and behavioral services in order to treat patients, mind, and body, as a whole.  Arizona’s state health service agencies took a major step toward integration in 2016 when the Division of Behavioral Health Services merged with AHCCCS.  Combining the payment structures for separate behavioral health services into an existing physical healthcare delivery system posed a unique administrative challenge for Arizona’s American Indian population. As AHCCCS members, American Indians can participate in managed care networks or a fee-for-service system.

Mr. Runkle, as part of a cross-divisional team of AHCCCS personnel, worked with tribal officials to reduce the administrative burden on tribal programs that coordinate behavioral health services.  He was instrumental in negotiating and drafting streamlined intergovernmental agreements focused on facilitating American Indians’ access to behavioral health services and crisis intervention programs.  The agreements transferred administrative burdens (processing service authorizations and maintaining provider networks) to AHCCCS so that tribal behavioral health programs could dedicate more resources directly to people in need.

“Our agency is progressive and proactive about balancing the needs of members while making health care financially feasible for the next generation.”

“It took considerable effort,” said Runkle, “but in the end, we were able to construct a system that freed providers to focus their resources on delivering direct services to members.”  In short, Mr. Runkle, the AHCCCS team, and tribal officials made behavioral health services more accessible to Arizona’s American Indian populations, including members enrolled with Tribal Regional Behavioral Health Authorities, Tribal Arizona Long Term Care System, and those receiving services from Indian Health Services and tribally owned and/or operated 638 facilities.

Formerly in private practice at a local Phoenix law firm, Mr. Runkle says that his move to public health care policy work has been personally rewarding.  “I feel good about what AHCCCS is doing and I’m confident in the direction we’re heading.  Our agency is progressive and proactive about balancing the needs of current members while making health care financially sustainable for the next generation,” he said.

Beyond his work in health care policy, Mr. Runkle is an advocate of behavioral health awareness within his community. For many years he has been a supporter of Teen Lifeline, a crisis and support line for teens, parents, and teachers, and currently serves on its Board of Directors.

According to the ASU Center for Applied Behavioral Health Policy website, 44 individuals and agencies in Arizona have been recognized since 2005 for their significant contributions to improvements in, access to, and impact of behavioral health care. The Cultural Heritage Award recognizes an individual or agency that has brought cultural distinction to the behavioral health field.


Support Services Training Available for Foster, Adoptive and Kinship Families

Office of Individual and Family Affairs
The Office of Individual and Family Affairs at AHCCCS

Within the AHCCCS Division of Health Care Advocacy and Advancement, the Office of Individual and Family Affairs (OIFA) promotes recovery, resiliency, and wellness for people with mental health and substance use challenges, and the families who support them. As community liaisons, it’s OIFA’s charge to ensure communities, organizations, advocacy groups, and key stakeholders understand the resources and services available to AHCCCS beneficiaries.

Anika Robinson, Foster Care Community Liaison, manages a busy schedule traveling across Arizona teaching foster and adoptive families about such resources. A licensed foster parent herself for 11 years, Robinson speaks from lived experience. She juggles her work schedule around the needs of her eight children ages 4-20, four of whom were adopted out of the foster care system. One son has behavioral health needs and another is developmentally delayed with medical needs.

Robinson is passionate about advocating for the foster and adoptive community. She was instrumental in getting House Bill 2442, better known as Jacob’s Law, passed in 2016. Now part of AHCCCS operating policy, Jacob’s Law instituted timelines to access behavioral and urgent health services, requires a placement packet, and provides protections for caregivers.

To educate prospective and current foster parents about policies benefitting vulnerable children, Robinson will present several training classes through October. The public is encouraged to attend any of the following scheduled information sessions or contact OIFA at oifa@azahcccs.gov or 1-800-654-8713.

Aug. 11, 10 a.m.-noon and 1-3 p.m.
Arizona’s Children Association and Prevent Child Abuse Arizona
3298 Bob Drive, Prescott Valley AZ 86314
RSVP to Larri Stell
928-443-1991 x 2020, LStell@arizonaschildren.org

Aug. 16, 11 a.m.-1 p.m.
Mission Community Church Children
4450 E. Elliot Road, Room 401, Gilbert, AZ
RSVP to Anika.Robinson@azahcccs.gov

Aug. 18, 11 a.m.-1 p.m.
Arizona’s Children Association and Northland Pioneer College
1161 S. Main St., Snowflake, AZ
RSVP to Kristen Padilla
928-368-7330, KPadilla@arizonaschildren.org

Aug. 30, 5:30-7:30 p.m.
Family Involvement Center (FIC)
5333 N. 7th St. Ste A100
Phoenix, AZ 85014
Space is limited. RSVP to 602-288-0155
Free Dinner and Childcare

Sept. 1, 11 a.m.-1 p.m.
Arizona’s Children Association and Northern Arizona Healthcare
McGee Auditorium
1200 N. Beaver, Flagstaff, AZ
RSVP to Larri Stell
928-443-1991 x 2020, LStell@arizonaschildren.org

Sept. 5, 6:30-9:30 p.m.
Online webinar
Register at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/jacobs-law-presentation-tickets-36246933554
or RSVP to Anika.Robinson@azahcccs.gov

Sept. 23, 9 a.m.-3 p.m.
St. Patrick’s Catholic Community Church
10815 N. 84th Street, Scottsdale, AZ
Lunch will be provided. Six credit training hours.
RSVP at http://fs3.formsite.com/AZAFAP/form141/index.html

Oct. 5, 10 a.m.-noon
Yavapai County Superior Court
Jury Assembly Room
2840 N. Commonwealth Drive, Camp Verde, AZ
RSVP to Larri Stell

Oct. 11, 6-9 p.m.
Human Resource Training (HRT)
RSVP to Anitra Cruz
602-433-1344, AnitraC@hrtaz.com

Oct. 28, 9 a.m.-noon
4825 N. Sabino Canyon Rd., Tucson, AZ
RSVP to Sandra Toney
520-884-7954 x 120, SToney@cpes.com


OIFA Leader Recognized for Behavioral Health Advocacy

Kathy Bashor names Leadership in Advocacy award winner
Kathy Bashor, Bureau Chief, Office of Individual and Family Affairs

For the last ten years, Kathy Bashor has advocated, fought, cajoled, and encouraged—sometimes with her feet firmly dug in— on behalf of people with mental illnesses. This month, Arizona State University’s Center for Applied Behavioral Health Policy named Bashor recipient of the 2017 Arizona Behavioral Health Award for Leadership in Advocacy for her sustained contributions to the accessibility, availability, and effectiveness of behavioral health services in Arizona.

“It’s OIFA and our peer and family-run community, not me, that deserves this award,” Bashor demures. “It’s because of our collaborative effort that we’ve been able to advocate for change and ensure that the concept of recovery continues.”

She credits the Office of Individual and Family Affairs (OIFA), which she oversaw at the Arizona Department of Behavioral Health before it merged services with AHCCCS in 2016. With a dedicated staff at AHCCCS, OIFA strives to reach 355 community members each week with information about peer and family support services as well as health care advocacy for foster families and AHCCCS members with serious mental illness.

Changing policies and increasing resources may be easy work compared to Bashor’s ultimate goal: ending the stigma around mental illness. To that end, Bashor openly shares her personal story. She was diagnosed with schizophrenia during childhood, spent time in the state hospital and was told that she would never become a functioning member of society.

“The stigma that comes with having been in the system has been enormous,” says Bashor. People don’t understand us. That’s been the hardest part of the job. AHCCCS has opened the door to changing perceptions within the behavioral health community and community at large.”

Research shows that working side-by-side with someone with a diagnosis supports the recovery process. To that end, Bashor has been instrumental in creating peer and family resources in Arizona, including:

  • Peer Academy – started in 2013 and credentialed by OIFA, the Peer Academy certifies peers who have received behavioral health services for mental illness. Peers help others with mental illness understand how to advocate for themselves, find career pathways and housing support, and learn about other behavioral health resources.
  • Arizona Dialogues – Bashor began a series of what’s now more than 100 open dialogue sessions between doctors, patients, peers and family members to understand perspectives and affect change.
  • Raise Your Voice –Bashor also led efforts to survey peer and family members about what they wanted most from their behavioral health system. The number one response? “Respect.”

While Bashor’s influence extends well beyond AHCCCS, she has also encouraged new perspectives on mental health and mental illness among her colleagues. During Mental Health Awareness Month in May, AHCCCS common spaces and hallways became an art gallery of works from PSA Art Awakenings.

AHCCCS commends Kathy Bashor for leadership in the behavioral health field and extends gratitude for her service to Arizona.