Adam Roberts believes that recognizing the mind and body as two parts of the same system is one of the keys to overall health.
Since May 2019, Roberts has been the president and chief executive officer at Diversus Health, the largest community mental and behavioral health provider in southern Colorado. It’s also one of the region’s oldest organizations, founded 145 years ago as a company that distributed coal, lumber and clothing to miners in the Rockies before it shifted its focus.
Roberts wants to bring Diversus further into the future by creating more efficient processes and a brand that speaks clearly to the public.
A native of Alamosa, Roberts received his bachelor’s in international business, marketing and finance from Regis University and an MBA in health administration from the University of Colorado, Denver. Roberts also earned a Black Belt Certification in Lean Six Sigma, a process improvement methodology that aims to cut problems, waste and inefficiency within organizations. He said his mother, a hospice nurse and administrator, inspired him to enter the health care field.
Before Diversus, Roberts was chief operating officer for Valley-Wide Health Systems Inc., a Federally Qualified Health Center in southern Colorado, where he helped to develop the company’s strategic plan and behavioral health service line at 13 clinics.
Over the past year and a half, Roberts has restructured the executive level of Diversus and overseen a major rebranding effort at the company, which before this year had operated under the name AspenPointe Inc. Before that, it was called Pikes Peak Behavioral Health Group. Roberts also sits on the boards of the Colorado Health Administration Alumni and Community Health Partnership.
He spoke with the Business Journal about the challenges of running a major health care organization during the pandemic, an uptick in certain mental and behavioral health problems, and how he handled a major data breach last year.
Tell us what you do at Diversus.
We deliver behavioral and mental health services to El Paso, Park and Teller counties. In my role as the president and CEO, I’m the leader of the organization, but I also really work with the board of directors on setting the strategy for the organization, creating the vision and really kind of leading us through — especially most recently — some challenging times.
Our primary focus is to provide behavioral and mental health services to our service areas. We predominantly and historically have worked with the underserved population: the Medicaid population, low-income. Most community health centers are structured that way. We also do see some commercial insurance and Medicare. We’re definitely looking to expand into those areas as we move forward. Diversus Health ... dates back 145 years to providing human services to this region and area. … It’s kind of cool, but also humbling to [lead] an organization that has such a long history.
The company has changed its name a few times, most recently to Diversus Health: Mental Health and Wellbeing for All. What prompted that?
We really wanted to ensure that people understand that we are a behavioral and mental health provider. We believe in mental health and wellbeing for all. That’s our tagline. So Diversus Health, the transition to that name is really allowing us to be something different, something distinct in the marketplace and really show that we are here to provide good behavioral and mental health services to the community that we serve. It also allows us to think about the future and be a little more innovative and creative in the services we provide. The word “Diversus” is really to kind of identify and celebrate that everybody’s different.
How did you take on running such a large organization and what changes have you made?
Some of the initial things that we needed to focus on were improving our operations, improving our ability to provide clients access to care. When I got here, it was very challenging, I think, for clients to get in to see us in a timely manner. And when people are needing behavioral and mental health care, timeliness is key. I have a long history of improving processes and using Lean Six Sigma methodology and reducing waste in a system, and so I started really developing a leadership team.
I brought in a lot of new leaders to this organization to use their skill sets and abilities to make some positive and sustainable change. We looked at removing waste in our system in terms of efficiencies and just overall developing a more effective model of care. I think one of the big ways to do that was developing a new leadership structure at the organization, and that’s really helped us to pivot — especially when COVID happened.
How did Diversus adapt to deliver care to clients during the pandemic?
I think we’ve all had to adapt to a new way of being and living. We already ... had some providers that worked in that telehealth space. ... But I would say when COVID was really kind of at its peak — right around St. Patrick’s Day — we literally shifted into a primary virtual model in about 48 hours. Our outpatient clinicians all went to a virtual model of care. We issued out laptops and cameras to all of our workforce, and it was a huge lift.
Sometimes I guess, in a crisis, you have to really be adaptable. ... It was challenging for staff. It was challenging for our clients, but I don’t feel like we had a choice. The demand for behavioral and mental health services was still there, and our traditional in-person model was something we could not do. So I took a very purposeful approach and a conservative approach to keep clients and staff safe, and we really put a lot of resources into optimizing that virtual model of care.
We’ve heard that social isolation, illness and death caused by the pandemic could bring an uptick in mental and behavioral health problems worldwide. Have you seen that here?
Overall, I would say we’ve seen an increase in demand for all of our services. People are struggling, and the challenges that we all face every day are compounded by the various negative effects of the pandemic. Those can range from isolation, to fear of getting sick, to actually getting sick, to losing a loved one, to losing a job. We’ve seen an uptick, especially in the number of services we provide in our addiction services line, particularly among teenagers and adolescents.
To me that is very concerning — for us and for the broader community, because this really reinforces the need for programs, like our school-based programs, community outreach efforts that we engage in. And so during these times, we’ve really got to ensure that we’re providing resources to those school-based programs and community outreach. I think it’s really challenging, especially for kids right now, to have a routine.
Last year the company suffered a data breach that affected thousands of patients. How did you respond?
It was just another challenge that we had to deal with as an organization. After having a cyber attack to the organization, one of the things that I quickly realized with cyber attacks is that it’s not “if” you’re going to be attacked; it’s kind of “when.” I was really proud of our organization in how we responded to it. There wasn’t anything that we did in a neglectful way that caused that attack. There’s a lot of people out there really trying to wreak havoc in technology as an outlet and a way for people to take advantage or try to get something out of an organization. I know there was a huge attack on one of the largest hospital systems right around the same time ... . We addressed it as best we could.
We brought in a lot of different consulting groups, people who specialize in this. ... So we were able to make some adjustments, make some improvements in our security and different things, but we also felt really confident in our approach. We really worked hard to ensure the protection and safety of our staff and our clients. That’s where we’re putting some more resources in the future. We’re not immune to getting attacked again. Nobody is. But ... we’ve increased the amount of preventative measures that we can put around our system. ... We’ve gotten a lot of compliments on how we handled that attack from other nonprofits and community health centers, who have now been reaching out to us to ask us what we learned.
What do you envision for the future of behavioral health, and why should the public feel optimistic about that future?
I think when you think about behavioral and mental health care, people like to divide it up. They like to divide mental health and physical health. I don’t think the two should be thought of as separate. Poor physical health can lead to an increased risk in developing mental health problems. Similarly, poor mental health can negatively impact physical health. I think mental health and physical health are very closely connected, but mental health plays a major, major role in being able to build and maintain good physical health.
Mental illness, such as depression, anxiety — it affects your ability to engage in healthy behaviors. Just knowing that really shows the importance of having good mental health and having good providers out there providing tools and techniques and ways in which people can improve their lives and address issues or trauma or things that have happened in their life. I see mental health and behavioral health being a growing health care field, but I really believe that it’s part of whole-person care.
That there is a shortage of providers across our community and across the nation should really speak to the importance of behavioral and mental health right now. And if we don’t improve the supply ... there’s a lot of outcomes that we don’t want to see as a society. I think the future is challenging. Health care is a competitive market.
It’s a competitive world. Things are moving so fast and changing. The mental health landscape is really evolving, especially with technology. There’s a lot of artificial intelligence coming out with different ways to use technology to diagnose and treat. I think it’s very exciting but challenging times ahead in the industry of mental health and behavioral health care. There are a lot of organizations investing in behavioral and mental health care. I would encourage other companies to do that as well.