New mental health CEO wants to reduce stigma, offer empathy

By: Nick Mordowanec | C&G Newspapers | Published January 15, 2019

 David Pankotai

David Pankotai

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MACOMB COUNTY — Macomb County Community Mental Health has a new CEO.

Approximately 50 applicants were part of the search for the next CEO. Following phone screenings, qualification checks and resume digs, the MCCMH board of directors chose David Pankotai, of Macomb Township, as its new CEO and approved his employment contract Dec. 13. His first day on the job was Dec. 17.

Pankotai has a bachelor’s degree in clinical and community psychology from the University of Michigan-Flint, and a master’s degree in mental health counseling from Oakland University.

Prior to his new and current role, Pankotai was executive director for ConsumerLink Network, a managed comprehensive provider network funded by the Detroit Wayne Mental Health Authority to manage services for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

After joining ConsumerLink in 2002, Pankotai took the startup to new heights. Its revenue grew from $11 million per year to more than $100 million, with members increasing from about 1,750 to more than 6,000.

The new CEO said that his years at ConsumerLink benefited him during the interview process, which included an emphasis on utilization management and being aware of current industry standards. Pankotai said he enjoys working with people and promoting awareness and sensitivity for mental health.

Pankotai takes over for John Kinch, who formally retired as CEO Jan. 4.

He said that prior to Kinch’s retirement, the pair spent “a lot of quality time together” discussing the ins and outs of the position, and the mental health stigma as a whole.

Kinch spent eight years as CEO, navigating his way through budget cuts and updated approaches toward mental health and substance abuse treatment, and reducing administrative costs while advocating for vital funding that improves quality of life.

Kinch wrote a letter to the MCCMH board of directors stating he has been and will continue to be a voice for mental health.

“I believe we have created a wonderful network of care,” Kinch told his staff upon his decision to step away. “That also includes the valued role each of you hold as CMH staff. While the challenges that are in front of us are great, the opportunities are even greater. Believe it!”

MCCMH Deputy Director Jim Losey said Kinch “provided strong and effective leadership for MCCMH during the most difficult budget times in memory,” adding that he championed efforts related to funding and never lost focus on the real people affected.

At press time, Pankotai said he was working on an introductory letter for MCCMH staffers, touching on key points that include keeping mental health patients and their families in the forefront of the mind; “holding down the fort” and understanding the staff’s concerns; and imploring accountability at all levels and communicating in an aura of transparency.

Pankotai was “very impressed” with the way Kinch and his staff worked in relation to level of detail, especially when it came to seeking local and state funding mechanisms.

As for the biggest challenges moving forward, funding is intertwined with dealing with mental health emergencies, such as the ongoing opioid epidemic. As Pankotai stated, “The most important challenge is going to change at any given minute.”

“(Patients and their families are) dealing with it day in and day out, and we need to support them,” he said. “And to do that, I need appropriate funding. … I went to two funerals last year here in Macomb County, of 20-year-old people, which was just personally upsetting.”

Pankotai said he’s already doing his homework when it comes to best practices and medical-assisted treatment. He said the stigma associated with mental health has led to a “one step forward, two steps back” reality.

“We as advocates need to push back against those types of statements,” he said, saying that accepting it as an illness creates a much more open and understanding environment. “We have to continually push to make sure people are aware of the facts involved, and they do understand where they can go for help. That’s a continual effort, to educate the community on where to go for help, who to call.”

As for those who lack the financial ability to seek help, he said MCCMH staffers are always readily available to provide or promote services.

For more information, visit www.mccmh.net.

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