Make Way for the Chief Behavioral Health Officer

By James U. King, III


Jim King

“Keeping a population healthy means keeping them healthy physically, mentally and, frankly, socially,” former AHA president Rich Umbdenstock has written. I think that’s a keen observation, and AHA is part of a movement to ensure better integration of physical and mental health care within communities as a means of fostering society’s overall wellness.

From the provider perspective, there is a clear connection between a strategic focus on behavioral health and providing successful care. There figures to be business benefit for organizations that can effectively integrate behavioral health into the care continuum and improve quality, cost and outcomes.

These ideas are intuitive, but only recently have health systems been looking more strategically at integrating behavioral health leadership as an essential component of their population health initiatives. What this will ultimately lead to are dedicated, system-wide executive roles that have this strategic focus as their core charge. We are entering an era where a Chief Behavioral Health Officer (or similar titles) will emerge.

I recently had the opportunity to speak on this topic with Healthcare Dive’s Meg Bryant, who then wrote an excellent article: “As demand for behavioral health grows, is it time for a new C-suite role?” We discussed issues such as core responsibilities and competencies for a CBHO position (a “premium on soft skills,” I told her), and whether this executive would more likely be recruited from inside or outside an organization.

We are still very early, of course, in this trend. But in speaking with CEOs, board chairs, and other leaders of today’s major ACOs and health networks, I am fairly confident that Chief Behavioral Health Officer types of positions will evolve and play prominent roles in their organizations’ marketplace success. The benefits of such executives – to providers and society – are obvious.


James U. “Jim” King III, Senior Partner, Chief Quality Officer, and leader of the Children’s Hospitals practice at executive search firm Witt/Kieffer, has more than 20 years of healthcare leadership experience and specializes in identifying CEOs and other C-suite leaders at health systems across the U.S.

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