The Minnesota-based Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation on Thursday named Dr. Joseph Lee as its new president and chief executive, the first physician and person of color to lead the addiction treatment giant.
Lee, a psychiatrist who specializes in child and adolescent addiction, has been medical director of youth services for Hazelden Betty Ford since 2010. In this role he oversees a range of programs, including outpatient and residential care, and family services. Lee also works directly with families as a clinician.
He begins his new position June 28, succeeding Mark Mishek, who announced his retirement last fall.
"Dr. Lee is a generational talent who will be a pioneering leader for Hazelden Betty Ford and the field of addiction treatment for years to come," Lester Munson, chairman of the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation's board of trustees, said in a statement.
Munson highlighted Lee's record of innovation, clinical excellence and values-based leadership in addition to his ability "to think and communicate strategically, lift up other voices and inspire hope, passion and commitment."
Lee takes the helm of the Center City-based nonprofit at a time of rising need for addiction treatment and mental health services.
The pandemic has led to stress over job losses and changes in daily routines, as people work from home and juggle extra demands of helping school-aged children with remote learning.
Meanwhile, an ongoing opioid epidemic is fueling a rise in drug overdose deaths nationwide. In Minnesota, drug overdose deaths rose 30% in the first half of 2020, according the state health data.
Lee said he plans to advocate for investments in addiction prevention and efforts to fight discrimination around addiction that prevent people from getting help.
The stigma of mental health "is very concrete," Lee said. "It has to do with infrastructure, money, resources, talent. Any hospital you visit in the country you can tell where the priorities are. And you can also tell that addiction and mental health has a long ways to go to get equity."
Lee takes the helm at Hazelden Betty Ford after a period of rapid growth and widespread change in the health care industry.
Mishek has been CEO since 2008, and helped engineer the 2014 merger with the California-based Betty Ford Center, named for former President Gerald Ford's wife and known for its celebrity patients.
The combined forces have made Hazelden Betty Ford the nation's largest nonprofit provider of addiction treatment and mental health services. The $202 million company serves more than 25,000 people a year and is Minnesota's 26th largest nonprofit, according to the Star Tribune's annual ranking.
At 45, Lee is the youngest CEO in the organization's 72-year history.
He came to the United States from Seoul with his parents and older sister when he was about 7. His father was a chemical engineer and his mother an artist. The family settled in Oklahoma, where his father studied for a master's degree and Ph.D. His mother cleaned houses to help pay the bills.
Lee became a U.S. citizen while still in medical school at Duke University on what he called a "magical day."
He sees a "silver lining" in the coronavirus pandemic in which he hopes greater empathy will open the door to policy changes to support mental health services.
"The average American now can better relate to the loneliness, the despair, the suffering that lots of people with mental health and addiction issues have," Lee said. "It's a great moment that we should never forget these kinds of lessons and how important connections to each other are."
Jackie Crosby • 612-673-7335