10 Emerging Industry Leaders: Morissa Henn

MHE PublicationMHE October 2020
Volume 30
Issue 10

Managed Healthcare Executive's October issue headlines 10 chosen healthcare leaders in its fourth annual "10 Emerging Industry Leaders" feature. MHE spotlights each leader individually with a video interview to accompany the Q&A between MHE and the emerging leader.

Morissa Henn, Dr.P.H., community health program director, Intermountain Healthcare,
Salt Lake City

I was raised in Concord, New Hampshire. I completed a B.A. at Tufts University, an M.P.H. at Columbia University and a Dr.P.H. Harvard University.

Morissa Henn

Prior to my current position at Intermountain, I was chief of staff at the nonprofit Children’s Health Fund in New York City, a healthcare consultant at Manatt and an adviser in the New York City mayor’s office.

Why did you choose your profession?

My parents are both health professionals. My father is a primary care physician, and my mother is a family therapist. They co-located their practices years before “mental health integration” was a thing. From them I developed an early interest in the ways that physical and mental health are deeply linked and in the ways that health is influenced not only by individual factors but also by systems, communities and societies. Public health doesn’t shy away from this complexity. From infections to inequalities, the field provides the science and tools to understand and address multifaceted problems.

What has been your biggest learning experience in the industry? What did it teach you?

When I transitioned from working in public health and public policy to healthcare delivery, I wondered whether I would encounter more narrow ways of thinking about how to improve health. The opposite was true.

At Intermountain, I am constantly encouraged to work in bold, cross-sector, multidisciplinary ways. For example, in leading efforts to prevent suicide — in a region where guns are extremely popular and accessible and are the most common and most lethal method of suicide — I proposed that our health system involve gun owners directly as collaborative partners. Through this “common ground” work, we have generated stronger messages and strategies and trained clinicians in how to talk with patients about firearm storage. Innovative systems like Intermountain not only embrace nontraditional stakeholders and solutions but also enable the resulting work to reach across the broadest populations.

How has COVID-19 affected your responsibilities and how your organization operates? How might your job and your organization change because of the pandemic?

COVID-19 has begun to reveal and remedy major challenges in the field of mental health. A recent survey with Harvard Medical School and the University of North Carolina School of Medicine found 90% of Americans reporting emotional distress due to the pandemic; the urgency and universality of these issues are stark. Simultaneously, we’re seeing explosive growth in digitally enabled care and services that help overcome access and coordination barriers that have persisted for decades. The mental health consequences of COVID-19 are profound and likely to be with us for a long time. The question is, can we meet this challenge with the kind of transformational investments that not only prevent negative impacts but fundamentally fix our fragmented system?

How has the current discussion of racism and healthcare inequity affected you, your outlook and your organization? What has been the short-term response, and what do you envision happening over the longer term to your organization and American healthcare?

Racism is a public health crisis and a critical determinant of health. As an organization committed to “helping people live the healthiest lives possible,” Intermountain recognizes that it has an obligation to act. We are listening to caregivers and communities of color, identifying disparities in our data and generating measurable strategies for improvement. American healthcare is waking up to the realization that we must confront the injustices in our midst today, acknowledge the underlying history of racism and white privilege that persists in American society, and address the institutional policies and individual biases in healthcare that can perpetuate racial inequality. We have a long way to go.

What other kinds of changes do you expect to see in healthcare in the next five to 10 years?

I think the gulf between “public health” and “healthcare delivery” will continue to narrow as health systems realize that modifying nonmedical factors — exposure to pollution, access to nutritious food, availability of stable housing — are where we will be able to have the biggest impact on improving outcomes and reducing costs. At the same time, as COVID-19 has shown us, effective public health response depends on close coordination with the delivery system, its massive workforce and its most vulnerable patients.

What have you enjoyed about social distancing and extra stay-at-home time during the past few months?

First, I feel so lucky to live in a place of such spectacular beauty as Utah, and the past six months have provided incredible opportunities for — sometimes midworkday! — skiing and trail runs in our backyard mountains. I also love politics and believe engaging in the electoral process is one of the most important things we can do to help contribute to a healthier world. It has been fascinating to follow local and national elections and engage in policy discussions and debates over virtual platforms. I’ll keep proudly wearing my “vote” mask when hiking local trails.

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