The VOA Alaska Blog

Feature Story

Reflecting on Our Responsibility: A Message from CEO Julia Luey

The following is the opening message to our 2023 Community Impact Report.

Responsibility is one of the core values that drive our organization. For VOA Alaska, responsibility means “meeting and exploring the need while holding true to the highest standards of excellence.”

As a direct-service provider on the front-lines of the youth mental health crisis, this understanding of responsibility takes us far beyond the walls of our offices.

Alaska’s current continuum of care for children, adolescents, and families is fragmented. A United States Department of Justice Civil Rights Division investigation of the State of Alaska’s Behavioral Health System for Children found that reasonable cause to believe the State is violating the Americans with Disabilities Act by failing to provide appropriate treatment options. Furthermore, the investigation found that Alaska’s children experience unnecessarily long stays at inpatient psychiatric and residential psychiatric facilities due to a lack of community-based treatment options.

Since 2021, we’ve expanded our community-based services by 300%, including the launch of a new crisis intervention program called Rapid Response. Through this program, within one hour of calling VOA, a mental health clinician or peer support specialist from the team will travel anywhere within Anchorage to support youth, caregivers, or staff of youth-serving organizations. They can also support statewide through telehealth.

We recognize that it is not only our responsibility to serve the individual who meets the criteria for substance use and mental health services but to also do what we can to intervene as early as possible for those at risk of developing a diagnosis to prevent further suffering in the lives of our young people. You’ll find three stories in this year’s impact report highlighting how we do this across our continuum of care.

There is more that we can do and more that must be done, but we’re faced with a deteriorating system of care.

Medicaid rates do not reflect the cost of care, with many essential services not covered at all. Compounding this issue, our state-wide behavioral health system reflects what is needed for adults and does not encompass the unique needs and differences of the adolescent population. It is our responsibility to join partners, leaders, and community members to sound the alarms on what’s broken, what’s needed, and how to fix it.

In 2023, we joined panels with partners to share our front-line experience with Alaska’s social workers, school administrators, and peer support professionals. We met with state legislators, our congressional delegation, and government officials to ensure they understood the gravity of the crisis our youth are in, the challenges providers are facing to meet those needs, and potential solutions to break down barriers to care.

We cannot achieve the highest standards of excellence without a dedicated and talented workforce. Therefore, it is our responsibility to ensure that our staff have the support and resources they need to not only do this challenging work but also to go home every night feeling fulfilled. This is why we offer paid parental leave, competitive salaries, professional development opportunities, and, most recently, pet insurance. No wonder we were named a Best Workplace in Alaska for the second year!

We appreciate the many partners, funders, organizations, leaders, and community members who joined with us to meet and explore the need in 2023 while helping us to serve, support, and empower over 1,000 youth, young adults, and families across Alaska. The challenges ahead are many, but it is our responsibility to do everything we can to protect our kids and put an end to Alaska’s youth mental health crisis.

Thank you for joining us in this important work.

With love,

Julia Luey
President & CEO

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