New Executive Director Returns to Texas, Ready to Move Foundationís Work Forward
September 1, 2008
By Elisabeth Kristof
After just one week in his new position, the Hogg Foundation's new executive director, Dr.
Octavio N. Martinez Jr., felt right at home and eager to embark on a career opportunity he believes will allow him to contribute to a greater quality of life for all Texans.
Martinez, a native Texan, moved from North Carolina to assume his new post on Aug. 11. He succeeded Dr. King Davis, who after five years as executive director returned to teaching at the School of Social Work at The University of Texas at Austin.
The role of executive director immediately appealed to Martinez because of the leadership opportunities to shape the foundation's initiatives, reform cultural beliefs surrounding mental health, improve health care services, and positively impact the lives of all Texans.
"It is an honor to accept the role of executive director because it allows me to contribute and give back to a state that has given me so much," said Martinez. "I'm also very happy to be back with my family here in Texas."
Martinez brings to the foundation an exceptional professional and academic history, scattered with an array of divergent experiences. As an undergraduate at The University of Texas at Austin, he explored various career options in search of inspiration: the Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps, finance classes and premed courses. But a love of numbers eventually led him to pursue a career in banking.
After obtaining a master's degree in business administration with a concentration in finance from the university, Martinez worked as a commercial real estate banker in Austin. Then, the savings and loan crisis of the early 80's hit, creating a work environment that sparked a period of transition in Martinez's life.
"During the crisis I began to question whether I should continue working in the banking industry and if I was really contributing to society in that role," he said. He decided to turn to medicine, enrolling at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.
His banking experience, however, remains an important professional asset in his current role because he is able to analyze mental health issues from a financial perspective, which many clinicians lack, said Martinez. "Health care is a business," he said. "If you don't have funding, it impacts your ability to deliver services."
It was not until late in his medical school experience, after his one-month external rotation at Bridgewater State Hospital in Massachusetts, that Martinez realized his passion for mental health. "It was such a fascinating experience. I came back to Texas looking at mental health in a totally different way," he said. "I thought, 'Wow, a field in medicine that is this diverse and this interesting...I need to look into this more.'"
And he did. His interest in mental health led Martinez to pursue clinical and educational positions in mental health services, including work as an assistant professor and psychiatrist at The University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio, a clinical psychiatrist at Albemarle Mental Health Center and an affiliate associate professor at the Brody School of Medicine in North Carolina.
He also earned a master's degree in public health from the prestigious School of Public Health at Harvard University and continues to be an active and involved member of Reede Scholars, a network of public health leaders who have completed The Commonwealth Fund/Harvard University Fellowship in Minority Health Policy at Harvard Medical School.
Now, his interest and experience in mental health have brought him home to Texas to become the fifth executive director and the first Hispanic to lead the foundation since it was created in 1940.
Despite his enthusiasm and energy, Martinez knows the road ahead will be challenging because Texas has formidable problems to address. "Texas does not contribute enough to mental health care at the state level, which has resulted in the fragmentation of services," he said.
Coming from North Carolina, Martinez knows this fragmentation is not unique. "Problems in Texas are similar to the rest of the nation. Mental health care is in crisis across the United States," he said. And, these problems are exacerbated by the current economic downturns, Martinez noted. "Nationwide, social services are often the first to go with budget cuts."
Yet Martinez remains optimistic about his home state's ability to address these challenges. "One role of the foundation may be to spotlight organizations making positive strides in mental health care reform," he said. "We need to identify what is being done right, so others can see and perhaps replicate that."
Overarching all his aspirations is Martinez's desire to shift the public perception of mental health care away from the predominant belief that mental health is a field of medicine separate and less valuable than physical health care.
"We need to make a cultural change, not only in Texas, but in all western culture, by recognizing that the mind does not exist separately from the body," said Martinez. "Every person should be interested in improving mental health treatment because human beings have emotional needs beyond their physical well-being."
Martinez believes that as the connections between mental and physical health are more widely understood, the stigma attached to mental illness will be reduced. This in turn will lead to more people seeking better mental health and a higher quality of life – a goal that all Texans can support.
This goal of cultural change already is reflected in many foundation initiatives: involving consumers of mental health services and their families in improving state policies and programs, workforce development, cultural competency and integrated health care. The greatest challenge for Martinez will be to cipher through all the programs and decide where to concentrate the foundation's limited funding and resources.
As director, Martinez said his first task is to evaluate the foundation's current initiatives, programs and activities, then develop a strategic plan for both current and new areas of focus.
Martinez said he believes all of the foundation's current initiatives are timely and valuable, but limited funding and staff resources require the foundation to prioritize. He knows deciding where to focus next will not be easy. "Texas has so many important needs and issues in mental health today. It is like being asked to choose which family member you love most. They are all equally important," he said.
"We have to ask ourselves, 'At this time, what are the most effective ways to improve mental health in Texas?'" he said. "The foundation can best accomplish its mission of improving mental health of all Texans by concentrating our efforts on the mental health services and policies that have the most potential impact in Texas."