David Mineta’s career has strong roots in Santa Clara County. He earned his Master’s Degree in social work from San Jose State University and a Bachelor’s Degree from the University of California, Berkeley. He worked for 14 years as the Asian American Recovery Services Deputy Director in the Bay Area. From there he served in President Barack Obama’s administration in the appointed position of Deputy Director for Demand Reduction for the Office of National Drug Control Policy. After a five-year stint, he returned to the Bay Area to become President and CEO of Momentum for Health. He is the recipient of NAMI-Santa Clara County’s 2020 Community Merit Award.
David found his calling in the field of social work, determined to help some of the most underserved and vulnerable in society. For close to 30 years not a day has gone by in which David hasn’t been eager to improve the behavioral health landscape. We talked to David about his passion, career, work at Momentum, and the pandemic. The interview has been edited for content and length. You can listen to the interview in its entirety on YouTube: https://youtu.be/2QBsDw323t8
MM: David, what drove your passion to enter the field of mental health?
DM: Many families have their own connections and personal stories around behavioral health issues—mental illness and substance use disorders—our family is really no different. I was very concerned about a family member while growing up and wished there had been someone in school who could have helped. I started volunteering at a local agency when we lived in Virginia. I worked with a bunch of social workers, and I really wanted to do what they did. I thought it was great work. They told me I needed to go back to grad school. I came back to San Jose State University and got my Master’s in social work and spent the next 30 years in the field loving work. I wish that upon others, to find something they love and love what they do.
MM: When you took the helm as President and CEO of Momentum for Health in 2015, the nonprofit had a strategic plan to be recognized as a leader in comprehensive mental health services. Talk about what has transpired to reach this objective.
DM: I joined a very strong healthcare provider, with a long history of services in the community. We wanted our work to be seen just like any other healthcare provider, and not be stigmatized, feared, or pushed to the side because our services were attached to mental illness. Momentum is now part of a network of behavioral health agencies with a similar mission. An individual can receive integrated help from various agencies—whether it’s for mental illness, substance use abuse, or physical health.
MM: Your family needed mental health services. What did you learn from that experience?
DM: After 27 years in the field, our daughter, while in high school, experienced acute depression and anxiety. For the first time we were accessing services ourselves. I think that experience gave me renewed energy and commitment around the services we provided at Momentum, ensuring our services were client centered and empowered the client and family. I saw Momentum as a beacon of that message.
MM: During 2020 the nonprofit changed its name from Momentum for Mental Health to Momentum for Health. I understand it was to broaden the nonprofit’s focus.
DM: Yes. When I came to Momentum we wanted to broaden our services to include addiction and substance use disorders and thought the name was a little narrow. We also had a partnership with a federally funded qualified health center that provided primary care on a couple of our sites. The broader message was really important to convey. We are looking 10 to 15 years down the road at other services we may be providing. We also want to have all our services integrated inside our system, instead of referring them out. We don’t want to divide up the conditions especially if it’s all under behavioral health. We can do better as a system not to compartmentalize.
MM: Collaboration not competition is a core tenet for you in Momentum’s growth. You talked about partnerships. How else is that coming together?
DM: Collaboration is key. Competitiveness should not be there. We’re essentially one system with different providers and agencies all working toward a single goal. It’s up to the system to provide consistent care when someone needs it. During the pandemic, we have really made sure of that, as well as making sure we are open. Not everyone has access to services through the internet or phone. We still need to be there and this also applies to primary care. Many of our clients have more than one medical condition such as asthma and mental illness.
MM: The pandemic certainly changed the healthcare dynamic; yet at the same time mental health has come to the forefront. How is Momentum dealing with the crisis?
DM: My message in the communities is whatever condition they were in pre-pandemic is now exaggerated during the pandemic. In communities not connected to services this has only gotten worse. We have to redouble our efforts particularly in communities unable to access these services. I think our use and access of data is really important here, especially as we see an increase in suicide.
MM: Momentum has an Early Intervention Program to help those with suicide ideation, correct?
DM: Yes, and it’s been a constant worry for providers working with young folks. The situation is much more exacerbated due to the pandemic. They are not in school where you can identify these individuals. They are more isolated.
MM: What do you see in the wake of the pandemic?
DM: Our behavioral health issues are going to be with us for a long time. This has been our experience in other environmental issues like earthquakes and fires. The pandemic is a public health crisis. We have to play the long game like a marathon, but right now we are running a sprint. In the midst of a storm, people pulling together and working across siloes is so important. We need to talk about behavioral health and all the drivers like food insecurity and housing. We have to do things broader and deeper than ever before. As difficult as it has been for the people who need care and get care, I think we will look back on this as the most amazing achievement we’ve been a part of—by keeping services going.
MM: David, what would you like your legacy to be?
DM: That people would say, “Dave tried every day to be part of a larger network and team to help people around behavioral health and those who oftentimes go unnoticed.”