The Puget Sound Business Journal names Tom Sebastian as the 2023 Community Champion for the Health Care Leadership Awards – below is the article in full, along with a paywall-free link to read the article on the Puget Sound Business Journal.

A behavioral health transformation is underway in Everett with this industry veteran at the helm

By Brooke Strickland – Contributing writer

Dec 7, 2023

Compass Health CEO Tom Sebastian is in the middle of a three-phase redevelopment project to transform mental health care services in Snohomish County and points north. He says it’s a moment to celebrate, given the scarcity of options for people in crisis who have no place to live.

“We were determined to focus on potential solutions – not the intractability – and our (Everett) Broadway Campus Redevelopment is a direct result,” Sebastian says.

When finished, the facility will provide behavioral health triage, evaluation and treatment services for people of all ages. Sebastian is a PSBJ Health Care Leadership community champion for 2023.

About Tom:

  • Company: Compass Health
  • Current position: President and CEO
  • Hometown: Chicago
  • Residence: Snohomish
  • Family: Wife, Sheri; daughters, Tess and Carly
  • Education: MPA, University of Washington, M.S., Illinois State University
  • Workout routine: For a long time, I was an avid distance runner. Now, most days, I try to spend an hour on the Peloton bike.

What was your reaction to being recognized as a community champion?

It’s meaningful to me to be recognized as community champion because it comes with a certain responsibility that has long been central to our work and mission at Compass Health. Part of that has been our focus on leading a cultural transformation that positions us to better serve our communities. It’s my hope that this transformation will serve as a platform for Compass Health over the next 40 years of our history.

You’ve been a leader at Compass Health for 36 years. How has your approach changed over time?

After reading Brené Brown’s “Dare to Lead,” I was inspired to shift my leadership style. I’ve become more vulnerable and personal with my team and it’s allowed me to foster stronger connections. Most recently, we’ve all been engaged in purposeful listening and supporting our diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging efforts. By sharing their experiences, my team members have contributed to a wide array of thoughtful and challenging perspectives.

What motivated you to become a founding member of Fourfront Contributor, a coalition that advocates for mental health services?

Compass Health deeply understands the dynamics of caring for the needs of vulnerable community members. We have significant expertise that we share with lawmakers and policy allies to improve the systems and funding that support community behavioral health.

Fourfront Contributor allowed me and my colleagues to amplify those advocacy efforts statewide by building on professional relationships with CEOs at our peer organizations — Comprehensive Healthcare in Central Washington, Frontier Behavioral Health in Spokane and Sound in King County. These operate autonomously, but as leaders we work closely together, combining our expertise and diverse perspectives to bring forward a unified voice on key issues.

What door shut for you that turned out leading you to where you are now?

For Compass Health, Covid-19 really accelerated some of our more talked about investments in innovation. At the most basic level, the pandemic forced us to reevaluate the way we operate and emboldened us to take greater risks to innovate. From an operational pivot to launching a brand new telehealth platform to implementing a purposeful approach to engaging in social issues, the pandemic gave us permission to think differently.

You’ve been open about your own previous mental health challenges. How has your experience helped you become a more empathetic leader?

A few years ago I gave a TEDx talk where I shared that I suffered from anxiety. It’s not easy to stand on a stage and embrace that level of vulnerability, but relating to the challenges that others are facing informs your organizational decision-making. It gives me a more personal lens through which to view how we deliver care.

Who’s the health care leader you most admire and why?

About 10 years ago, Dr. Atul Gawande wrote “Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End.” It’s a fascinating book about the disparate ways different cultures approach end-of-life care. Reading it had a profound impact on how I think about and embrace change —certainly in many aspects of my life and leadership, but particularly within a health care setting.

If you had an extra hour in the day, what would you do with it?

I would spend it with my dog, Shadow, enjoying a nice hike through Lord Hill Park in Snohomish.

This interview was edited for length and clarity.

To read this article on the PSBJ website click here.

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