Mikel D. Whittier
Strategist – Justice and Health Equity
St. Louis Integrated Health Network
Webster Groves High School
Jacksonville State University, BS, Biology:
University of Missouri – Columbia, MHA;
A.T. Still University, Doctoral Candidate - Healthcare Administration
National Association of Health Services Executives – President Elect
American College of Healthcare Executives
100 Black Men of Metropolitan St Louis
Alpha Phi Alpha, Fraternity, Inc.
In short, what do you do?
In my strategist role, I work with regional criminal justice agencies to improve diversion, deflection, and reentry coordination to reduce fragmentation when justice involved community members need physical, mental, behavioral health and social services. I translate, mediate, and facilitate strategies between the health and criminal justice sector to increase access to quality care and resources. IHN partners with community providers and social service agencies to foster health and racial equity practices into the criminal justice system strategies through a health lens. The purpose is to disrupt strategies and criminal justice practices that criminalize poverty, poor health, lack of economic opportunities and quality education, and trauma.
What/who lead you to a career in health care?
I have always had a passion for health care. The more I learned about social and structural determinants of health, the U.S. health system, the disparities that exist within communities, and institutionalized racism, the more I realized that health care is the space where all the injustices in this country intersect. I have always had a desire to use my gifts for macro-level change. In my opinion, there is no better way to help people than to provide them with access to quality resources that will provide the foundation for them to fulfil their maximum potential. In a highly effective health and/or public health system, any and all resources are available to improve community members’ quality of life as needed with little to no resistance.
Tell our audience about the ‘Cops and Clinicians’ pilot that you have worked with.
St. Louis systems’ infrastructure is not well designed to handle crisis efficiently and prevent further crisis. In 2018, there was exploratory conversations to equip police with alternative solutions to rebuild trust in communities, increase community policing, and reduce the amount of time officers spent on calls for service. It was and still is evident that SLMPD could not do this alone; and, dual responder models are national best practice to improve access to health and social services.
The Cops and Clinicians pilot is based on a New Haven model that aims to equip law enforcement with a trauma-informed response to children and families exposed to violence. The St. Louis pilot’s purpose is to gather data that does not exist, respond with trained community health workers from community, intervene with resources and connections to other providers, and develop a strategy that could be implemented state-wide. The commitment from several regional partners to fully develop this strategy even without funding has made this work transformational in its infancy stage. There is so much work to be done even with the political and national attention.
As an adjunct professor at Saint Louis University, what are some of the most important concepts relay to your students regarding strategic management in health care?
Health care is a complex industry. You must first know your “why” to be effective because compassion fatigue and burnout are real for many. Also, change is constant. We must embrace change and manage transitions. We must ask ourselves “who benefits?” and “who is harmed?” constantly. In strategy, there is no perfect answer. You cannot be afraid to embrace trying, you must be open to continuous learning, and you must be bold. If you don’t, communities are left to die.