Growing up in the U.S. Virgin Islands was quite different from what most children experience on “the mainland,” said Laurent Javois, regional executive director for the Missouri Department of Mental Health.
Javois spent most of his childhood outdoors, playing carefree in a tropical, warm paradise, he said. Yet many things were not so different from the rest of the United States.
“I recall seeing other kids being teased, misunderstood and having difficulty,” Javois said. “They seemed unable to help themselves. I always wished there was something I could do to help them.”
As he learned about mental illness in his studies, he realized that some of these outcasts had been experiencing behavioral and mental health challenges.
“I was really drawn to the field because I felt there was something I had to offer,” he said, “and I wanted to make a difference.”
Today, Javois oversees three psychiatric hospitals in the St. Louis area for the state. In his time as regional executive director, he has led the department through both severe budget cuts and innovative changes to the mental health system.
“Year after year, it seemed we were continually asked to do more with less,” Javois said. “Fortunately, the leadership was very innovative and came up with the initiatives that allowed us to shift dollars and save money where we could. What we did was to invest in those programs that we felt were critical for the community.”
On Friday, April 25, Javois will receive the 2014 St. Louis County Children’s Service Fund Dr. John Anderson Excellence in Mental Health Award at the St. Louis American Foundation’s Salute to Excellence in Health Care Awards Luncheon at the Frontenac Hilton. The award was named after Dr. Anderson, a longtime St. Louis psychiatrist.
In 2010, the state government faced a $500 million budget shortfall. To save on costs, the state closed the 50-bed acute care psychiatric unit and emergency department at Metropolitan St. Louis Psychiatric Center at 5351 Delmar Blvd.
As a result, psychiatric patients experienced long waits in the region’s emergency rooms – in medical environments that are not designed to safely provide emergency psychiatric care. The closure has made it challenging to find appropriate inpatient care for consumers experiencing psychiatric crisis.
Javois worked with BJC Healthcare, SSM Healthcare and the Regional Health Commission to establish and sustain the Regional Psychiatric Stabilization Center – a 25-bed acute psychiatric hospital located inside of the Delmar center. It provides a 24-hour intake area and a treatment unit.
Also in response to the closures, Javois helped to establish the Hospital Community Linkage Service, which is coordinated by the Behavior Health Network of Greater St. Louis. This initiative enables community mental health programs to visit patients on psychiatric units in community hospitals. Through the program, 700 psychiatric patients every year are connected with community treatment.
“The impact has been shorter hospital stays, reduced re-hospitalizations and thousands of dollars saved,” he said of the service.
Javois is concerned about several issues affecting the African-American community. The stigma of mental illness and its impact on access to treatment is a big problem in the black community, he said.
“Unfortunately, there are many individuals who simply do not understand mental illness and shy away from it,” he said. “I think we need to do a better job of engaging individuals who are influential in the African-American community and have them participate in a conversation about mental illness, treatment and recovery.”
Underrepresentation of African Americans among health care professionals and leaders is another area where the community could grow, he said. He believes health care management programs at colleges and universities should make it a priority to recruit African-American students.
Before leaving the U.S. Virgin Islands to become a regional executive in Kansas City, Javois served as the director of the Division of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services for the U.S. Virgin Islands. He made his way to St. Louis after serving as the deputy director of the division of comprehensive psychiatric services in Jefferson City.
“It was by accident that I landed in St. Louis on an interim basis to oversee the hospitals temporarily,” he said. “But when I got here, I stepped right into a very exciting initiative.”
The Eastern Region Behavioral Health initiative was underway, which was a coordinated effort to evaluate the mental health system in the region and to transform it.
“When the folks in Jeff City asked if I wanted to return to central Missouri, I chose to stay in St. Louis,” he said. “I’m glad that I did.”
After moving to St. Louis, Javois met his wife, Bethany Johnson-Javois, who is the CEO of the non-profit St. Louis Integrated Health Network.
“It was hard to leave the Virgin Islands, but I really have come to love and enjoy Missouri,” he said. “The way I look at it, I have two wonderful homes now.”
Tickets for the 14th Annual Salute to Excellence in Health Care Awards Luncheon on Friday, April 25 at the Frontenac Hilton are $750 per table for VIP/Corporate seating and $50 each/$500 table for Individual seating. To order tickets, call 314-533-8000 or visit www.stlamerican.com.