Doctors at Hennepin Healthcare making strides to address mental health access and health equity

drs Hart And Vang, Doctors at Hennepin Healthcare, making strides to address mental health access, health equity, population health, mental health

Psychologist Dr. Talee Vang and psychiatrist Dr. Dionne Hart are stepping up to make a difference in mental health by serving on the boards of directors at the national level for their respective fields.

“The American Psychological Association is committed to health equity and has a focus on population health, which aligns with my values,” explains Dr. Vang, the first Hmong psychologist on the Board of the American Psychological Association. “I believe strongly in leveraging our sciences to improve our society for the most vulnerable, and given the mental health crisis our nation is in, I want to do my part to ensure mental health services are not only accessible but also evolving with technological advancements.”

Dr. Hart, who is Black, was recently elected to the Board of Trustees of the American Psychiatric Association.

Talee Vang

Dr. Talee Vang

“While Minnesota is a beacon of hope for those with serious health issues, many individuals are unable to access mental health care in a timely matter due to social determinants of health, including transportation, health insurance, and a shortage of mental health professionals, particularly in underrepresented and rural communities,” she said. “I strongly identify as an advocate. My efforts to draft and influence healthcare policy locally and statewide, mostly recently as a member of the Priority Admissions Taskforce, have culminated in my election as Area 4 Trustee of the American Psychiatric Association. As a trustee, I will continue efforts to end health disparities and close treatment access gaps in rural and minority communities.”

In 2023, the State of Mental Health in America report ranked Minnesota 27th when looking at the prevalence of mental illness combined with issues of insurance coverage and access to treatment. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 184,000 adults in Minnesota have a serious mental illness. Minnesotans are over four times more likely to be forced out of the network for mental health care than for primary health care – making it more difficult to find mental health care and less affordable due to higher out-of-pocket costs. In fact, 34.8% of adults in Minnesota did not receive needed mental health care because of the cost.

Both women acknowledge that technology is revolutionizing healthcare delivery. While artificial Intelligence (AI) stands at the forefront of this transformation, biases embedded in AI algorithms may inadvertently worsen disparities or perpetuate them rather than resolve them.

“Having a seat at the table to discuss these changes and to participate in conversations shaping the future of mental health care is essential,” said Dr. Vang.

Drs. Hart and Vang are making great strides to promote visibility and equity in their roles in response to seeing firsthand the critical workforce shortage in mental health services, a challenge that has far-reaching implications for both public health and individual well-being. This shortage is characterized by an insufficient number of psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists, and other mental health professionals to meet the growing demand for mental health care. “The consequences are significant, leading to long wait times for patients, increased pressure on existing mental health workers, and a gap in mental health services, especially in rural and underserved areas,” explains Dr. Hart.

Dionne Hart

Dr. Dionne Hart

“This shortage underscores the urgent need for increased investment in mental health education, training programs, and incentives to attract and retain talent in the mental health profession, as well as innovative solutions such as teletherapy to extend the reach of existing practitioners.” This includes introducing young people of color to opportunities within the profession. The American Psychiatric Association and the American Psychological Association are tackling these topics that impact the American people. These two prominent local leaders from Hennepin Healthcare, representing their professions, are prepared to roll up their sleeves and address disparities to improve mental health outcomes for all Minnesotans.

Hennepin Healthcare is a safety net hospital and a Level 1 trauma center that engages in teaching the future medical workforce of tomorrow. Psychologist and VP of Health Equity Dr. Talee Vang was elected to the Board of the American Psychological Association in 2024. Also serving as co-chair for Governor Walz’s Culturally Informed and Culturally Responsive Mental Health Taskforce, Dr. Vang is committed to ensuring health equity through accessibility and improving the quality of mental health services.

Dr. Hart describes herself as a lifelong Midwesterner, representing the needs of patients and psychiatric physicians in twelve states (Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin). Dr. Hart recently served on The Task Force on Priority Admissions to State-Operated Treatment Programs, established by the Minnesota Legislature in 2023. She is the first Black person and first female graduate of the Mayo Clinic Psychiatry Residency training program elected to serve on the American Psychiatric Association’s Board of Trustees.