The COVID-19 pandemic exposed a lot of shortcomings in our public health infrastructure – especially when it came to mental health.
Karthik Ganesh is worried about what that means going forward.
“Think about what the next pandemic could look like if we are already stressed, strained and stretched to the limit going into it,” he said. “We would just implode as a society.”
Ganesh is the CEO of Montvale-based EmpiRx Health, a value-based pharmacy benefits manager. More than that, he views himself as mental health advocate and thought leader. And he’s concerned.
Ganesh believes this so-called ‘tsunami’ of mental health care issues we’re facing right now is really nothing more than a wave compared to what it could look like over the next 10 years.
“This tidal wave is going to consume us; it is going to overwhelm every facet of health care as we know it if we keep ignoring it and we keep treating it as something that is adjacent to everything else in health care,” he said.
And while mental health is not the core of what EmpiRx Health does, it is a passion of his.
Ganesh has been a very vocal advocate of building resilience and has written exhaustively about it, including a book, The Happiness Model, which is based on his own spiritual journey and his quest for inner peace after he suffered a devastating loss.
That’s why Ganesh’s leadership style has evolved into creating management teams and employee bases that are resilient more than anything else. His team is comprised of not only talented individuals, but the most passionate and high-performance professionals around that are shaping the future of health care.
“If every single person is operating in a place where they are comfortable, where they feel resilient, where they feel they’ve got enough in the tank to deliver the best version of themselves – the organization takes care of itself,” he said. “That really has been my philosophy from a leadership standpoint.”
Over the last two years, EmpiRx Health has made it a point to hold company-wide conversations focusing on mental health where employees speak directly to their colleagues about their struggles.
“Every facet of our lives has a mental health implication,” he said. “We know that things that are happening on the work front, things that are happening on the personal front, things that are happening on the socioeconomic front, things that are happening inside and outside.
“It is important to get them out into the open.”
Ganesh said that muted factors of the past, have been amplified over the last three years as very distinct triggers from a mental health standpoint, and EmpiRx Health has taken it upon itself to normalize those conversations.
Mental Health Awareness Month
May is Mental Health Awareness Month. It has been observed in the U.S. since 1949. On the heels of the pandemic, there is increasing awareness of the importance of mental health in almost every aspect of our lives.
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As an example, Ganesh said that recently for Mental Health Month, employees who are going through very distinct and very different mental health challenges, spoke to the entire organization.
One person is a millennial who has been suffering from clinical depression and has been seeing a psychiatrist. Another individual was in the World Trade Center the day the towers went down on 9 /11 who closes her eyes and grabs hold of whoever is inside because the fear of enclosed spaces never leaves her.
“We have real people speaking openly about what they are really dealing with, how they’re dealing with it and, how they put one foot in front of the other and move forward,” he said. “We are normalizing conversations that are uncomfortable which is a humongous factor in creating an inclusive organization.
“And it’s those deliberate conversations that around mental health that give people the breathing room to feel included, irrespective of how they feel.”
And that starts from the top down. The CEO must be the most vocal cheerleader, he said.
Ganesh said he has been very deliberate about calling EmpiRx Health a community that rows in the same direction. The way the company has talked about things, how it talks to the company about the company, have all taken place with a purpose and he believes that has helped to fill it with people who are comfortable with who they are.
To Ganesh, EmpiRx Health is an elastic organization, one that is comprised of individuals who are living organisms and who are obviously component parts of larger things. So, he knows there is no one-size-fits-all way to lead.
But he is deliberate.
“I am very careful to never use the word family,” he said. “The reason for that has never been more stark than the last three years as we were trying to navigate through vaccinate, don’t vaccinate. I’m red. You’re blue. That one’s purple, I’m left, you’re right. That one’s flying straight to the middle.”
Ganesh said that looking at Empirx Health, both internally and externally, the way the company has built itself up is based off a bend-but-don’t-break mindset.
“As a result of that, the trickledown effect is we have made resilience a mantra and a core component of how we’ve taken care of our employees, how we work with our employees,” he said. “And by virtue of that and being a health care services organization, that trickledown effect of resilience also comes through in how we’ve taken care of our clients and patients.”
For Ganesh, that is a moral and a business essential for every employer and every health care benefits company. He says that EmpiRX Health has just taken it upon itself to scream as loudly as it can from its little corner of the world.
“Constructs around culture, resilience, inclusion, people feeling like they belong, and that they can be themselves and they can be comfortable saying I need to take a mental day off,” he said. “I believe these aren’t HR constructs anymore. These have to come top down. CEO, C Suite including the Chief People Officer down.
“Let us not ignore what’s going on with mental health because that will come back to suffocate everything else in health care.”
Ganesh said that as a country he would like to see a shift happen.
“Think about the two things that are most personal to us, our pocketbooks and our health,” he said. “As obsessive as we are about the economy. We don’t seem to be as obsessive about mental health and we seem to be more focused on solving cultural issues than actually taking care of our health.”