January 1st, 2014

Departing MPA executive director reflects on tenure

For the past two decades, the same face, the same name has been so linked with the Massachusetts Psychological Association, that it will be very strange when she is no longer executive director.

Elena Eisman, Ed.D., recently announced that she will step down from her post as of Dec. 31, a move that comes after 22 years with the organization. During that time, Eisman has represented more than just a membership-based professional organization. She has had to be the face of insurance change as the nation looked to Massachusetts to see how the Affordable Care Act might play itself out for psychology. She has been on the front lines of advocating for psychologists to be a part of the conversation on health care integration. She has stepped up, like so many in her profession, to offer training and counseling to those involved in tragedy.

Since joining MPA in 1992, Eisman has also conducted a private clinical practice, been on the faculty of Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology, chaired the Massachusetts Mental Health Coalition, helped write the Behavioral Health Integration Task Force report and acted as a board member for the American Psychological Association, a position which also ends in a few weeks.

In her years with the MPA, Eisman has helped to create and solidify an organization that will, with luck, carry on her drive toward making sure that psychologists are heard in every arena where they participate. She spoke with New England Psychologist’s Catherine Robertson Souter about the work she has done and her plans for the future.

Q: Thank you for taking time to speak with us as you wrap things up at MPA and with the board at APA. Now that you are almost finished with both posts, what happens next?

A: I am taking a little time to figure out what I want to do. I will still be involved in the APA since I was just elected to the Committee for the Advancement of Professional Practice (CAPP), the board that oversees the practice organization. And I will still be around, still be a member of MPA.

Q: Since you took the reins, how has the job changed?

A: The advocacy needs and the challenges of being a membership organization have increased. There are generational differences about how people value professional organizations which makes it a challenge to keep numbers up as baby boomers are retiring.

In addition, advocacy has been a real challenge with health care reform starting in Massachusetts. The challenge is to position psychology so that psychologists of all kinds still have a role in the new health care delivery systems.

Q: What is the concern?

 A: Right now, the question is what teams are going to be providing care in these new systems of care that are supposed to be more cost effective according to state law. Because we have greater expenses of training, the reimbursement level is something we have to pay attention to. In an era where cost containment is legislated, it is important to be able to show how psychology has value in the system and should be reimbursed at a higher level.

We need to make sure psychologists have a role in the system and I have tried to do that through putting language in various places, documents, like the Behavioral Health Integration Task Force report, which will give us some language we can use going forward.

The system is looking at various directions at once and creating models to address the complexity of the services and the whole team concept of providing health care. The mental health portion is beginning to be recognized as key to keeping costs down and to patient satisfaction, which is a good direction.

Q: With the changes in the healthcare laws, both initially in Massachusetts and across the nation now, you must get a lot of questions from members about how new laws will affect them.

A: Yes, we do. And all the organizations and companies are moving in slightly different directions so it is further complicated by that. There are different models that are developing for patient centered medical homes, for accountable care organizations, for AQCs, which are alternative quality contracts. I think the system is trying to, in many ways, experiment with what is going to end up being the most cost effective while maintaining the best quality. Some may work and some may not.

Q: It must have been an exciting time to be involved in the process since Massachusetts changed its laws.

A: It has. We have been a focus of attention nationally, although at times I miss the old days when we really knew what rules were, when things were simpler. But, I guess there are always things about the “good old days” that people miss.

Q: Over the past 22 years, there have been many changes in the world around us – 9/11, the ACA, school shootings. How has this affected your work?

A: I think that we have had great success in terms of our ability to respond to emergencies and disasters. In 1990, at the centennial of the American Psychological Association, as their gift to the nation, psychology set up a national disaster response network. In Massachusetts, we have an absolutely phenomenal disaster response network and psychologists who give their time for no remuneration when the need is there.

Q: Did you get involved in working on the front lines?

A: Personally, yes, after the Marathon bombings. This was what is so amazing about our group: on that Friday night there was a call from the head of the Disaster Response Network for some expedited training for the disaster mental health team. That came across our listserve at 8 o’clock at night and the training started the next morning at 9 o’clock. There were about 30 psychologists who responded. I was there and it really made me feel proud of psychology.

Q: You have kept up your clinical practice and teaching since taking on the MPA roles. Will that continue?

A: For the practice, a small amount. I have not been teaching for the past few years but that is still something that interests me.

Q: How did you come to MPA and this position?

A: I had my children late in life and I was a family and couples therapist primarily so I had mostly worked in the evening. That was fine when they were infants but when my kids started school, I didn’t think it was good modeling for a family therapist never to see her children. This job was mostly during the day and it was perfect timing for me.

The advocacy was something I really took to naturally. I like being a problem solver and working with a variety of different people. I also don’t like feeling powerless so being in the position has met my needs personally as well as professionally.

Q: What do you see as the biggest challenges for next executive director?

A: The challenge is always to try to adapt the resources of the organization to meet the needs of psychologists. There are a lot of different directions psychologists are going in and to help the members move into these new areas of work and to provide the resources that they need is really what the challenge is going to be.

Q: Is there someone coming in to take your place?

A: Not at this point.

Q: Thank you again for your time. Good luck and let us know what you are going to do next. We’d love to hear about it.

A: Okay, will do that.

By Catherine Robertson Souter

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