Praise and thanks understandably greeted Monday’s retirement announcement by HealthPartners CEO Mary Brainerd.
As the longtime head of the Twin Cities-based nonprofit, which provides health insurance and medical care, Brainerd proved a steady hand during the tumultuous debate over the Affordable Care Act and its rocky roll out. She served as CEO since 2002 and will leave her successor a HealthPartners that is larger and stronger, thanks in part to the 2012 merger Brainerd engineered with the Park Nicollet health system.
Brainerd also exemplified the civic leadership that Minnesota has long expected from its chief executives. In particular, her work with the Itasca Project, an economic development group of 40 regional leaders, stands out. But Brainerd also merits praise for her less well-known efforts on a critical public health issue. As CEO, she became one of the state’s most powerful advocates for those who struggle with mental health.
The state-of-the-art mental health hospital on the HealthPartners’ Regions Hospital campus in St. Paul is one testament to that. Brainerd also was a force behind the “Make It OK” public awareness campaign to decrease the stigma about having one of these medical conditions.
Then there is Brainerd’s work with the East Metro Mental Health Roundtable, an alliance of civic and health care leaders and law enforcement officials. The group’s goal is to bring together stakeholders and utilize their expertise to improve treatment and access to resources so that those helped can stay healthy.
Brainerd led these efforts, said Sue Abderholden, the head of Minnesota’s National Alliance on Mental Illness chapter. One important outcome of the group’s efforts: the opening of a mental health urgent care center.
Despite the pressures of her job, Brainerd always found time to talk with community leaders and the news media about mental health. Her passion for helping those who struggle with these illnesses — as well as their families — always shined through. Her work made a real difference in this often under-resourced area of medical care.
Brainerd told reporters this week that she plans to spend more time with family and friends and would continue to serve on several boards of which she is already a part. We hope she’ll also continue as a mental health care advocate. Brainerd’s compassionate voice and can-do pragmatism are still greatly needed.