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The Medical Director's Desk
A New Era in Communications Begins at APA
Psychiatric News
Volume 39 Number 17 page 4-4

FIG1 Communications is at the heart of an organization's ability to publicize its mission, messages, and priorities. In recent weeks, we have breathed new life into our communications efforts with the reorganization of the APA Office of Communications and Public Affairs (OCPA).

In years past, OCPA served as the epicenter for our public relations efforts and public information campaigns. Now, with a new team in place, we are embarking upon a new era for APA communications.

OCPA will be the driving force behind our efforts to communicate our vision and mission to our key internal audiences and external publics and to develop a national public awareness and issues management campaign. Once defined and launched, it will be a campaign that will ultimately strengthen APA's position with our patients and their families, APA members, patient advocacy groups, nonpsychiatric physicians, elected officials, and regulators.

OCPA is developing a progressive communications plan that includes launching a public information campaign during spring 2005 that will address three key issues: patients' understanding of psychiatric illness, stigmas associated with psychiatric disorders, and the difference between treatment by psychiatric physicians and nonphysician mental health practitioners.

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Along with leaders of other APA divisions, OCPA staff is beginning to work with the Committee on Public Affairs to set specific goals for addressing our key public issues, as well as to provide more communications support for the Public Affairs Network and the membership at-large.

Here are examples of the kind of support APA members can expect from OCPA staff:

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These are just a few of the efforts now being led by OCPA director Lydia Sermons-Ward, who joined APA on June 1 and brings more than 20 years of communications experience and organizational management skills to APA. Sermons-Ward previously served as senior vice president of communications and marketing for a national nonprofit credit-counseling membership organization; communications director for Washington, D.C., Mayor Anthony A. Williams; communications director for the U.S. Treasury Department; press secretary for President Bill Clinton's One America: President's Initiative on Race; press secretary for Pennsylvania Rep. Chaka Fattah; public relations manager for Children's Hospital of Philadelphia; station services manager and producer for a CBS television station; and public affairs producer for an ABC affiliate television station. She also has a bachelor's and master's degree in communications.

Since June, Sermons-Ward has developed a team of capable communications professionals who are taking bold and much-needed steps to strengthen APA's voice as a leader on mental illness issues and treatment.

Rounding out the OCPA team are Hillarie Turner, who after serving two years with APA was recently promoted to senior communications specialist; Chris Weaver, electronic communications specialist who also serves as the APA Web master; Gionne Johnson, who left the Psychiatric Services journal to join the office as marketing and editorial writer; Jessica Mikulski, communications specialist, who came to us from the New Jersey Credit Union League; and Kyle Jones, communications coordinator, who recently obtained a communications degree from Hampton University.

In today's crowded marketplace, many organizations and institutions have emerged as data sources for psychiatric illness. But APA continues to be a dominant information source in the mental health community, given our history as the longest-serving professional organization for psychiatric physicians and the largest proprietor of psychiatric intellectual property. Now, with a renewed focus on communications, we look forward to re-establishing APA as the leading voice on psychiatric illness and promoting our members as the leading providers of psychiatric care. ▪

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