How Baseball Sparked a Vision

Harvey MorrisPodcast

Transcript of Road Home Program: The Podcast, Episode 3

How Baseball & Boston Sparked a Vision That Became the Road Home Program

Dr. Mark Pollack, former Chairman of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Rush University Medical Center, shares how a visit by the World-Series-winning Boston Red Sox to the White House inspired an idea to help veterans dealing with PTSD.

Will Beiersdorf, Executive Director of The Road Home Program at Rush: Good day, everybody. I’m Will Beiersdorf. And this is the Road Home Program podcast. I want to thank everybody for joining us. And again, if this is the first time you’re, you’re checking the Road Home podcast out, again, we are a veteran and service member and family center focusing on the invisible wounds of war in life. And you’ve probably heard the term PTSD. MST, TBI and other acronyms. And again, what we do at Road Home is we help these men or women who are battling these invisible wounds of war life, so Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, military sexual trauma, traumatic brain injury, and other things that they might be dealing with. And again, I’m the Executive Director of the Road Home Program, your host for these series and, and today, I’m really thankful to have someone who is very special to the program, someone who has played a key role in helping, helping really kind of birth and start this program. It’s Dr. Mark Pollack. He’s our former Chair of Psychiatry, who left this past January to go into industry and he can share more about what he’s doing. But, Dr. Pollack was the one who really helped start the Road Home Program and get things kicked off here at Rush University Medical Center. So Dr. Pollack, welcome. 

Mark Pollack, former Chairman of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Rush University Medical Center: Mr. Beiersdorf, very nice to see you.

Will Beiersdorf: We miss ya. Just real quick note there that I miss you, too. So anyway, so hey, so Mark, is it all right, if I call you Mark? For the, are you, okay, I know you’re in California now, you know, there’s, you know, the professional terms and stuff. But this, I’ll call you Mark.

Mark Pollack: Either that or Ram Dass would be good. (laughs)

Will Beiersdorf: Funny guy. Anyway. So, so Mark, so can you tell us a little bit about, you know, about how we started? And I say we because it took a, you know, several people, multiple people, but but you were the one who brought the concept and idea to Rush when you came here in 20, was it 2011, I think? To become the Chair of Psychiatry? 

Mark Pollack: Right.

Will Beiersdorf: Can you share with the folks that are listening just, again, the beginnings and kind of how things kicked off and started and how you kind of started this, started this process?

Mark Pollack: Sure. Think about the beginnings, I think that I actually need to go back to Boston. So before I came to Rush in 2011, I had been at Mass General Hospital in Boston doing work in anxiety disorders and PTSD. And right around 2006, 2007, the Boston Red Sox won the World Series. And as was traditional then, the World Series winner would go down to Washington and meet with the President. So they went down to Washington and had their White House meeting, but the team doctor for the Red Sox was a veteran and was still involved with the military. And he asked the team if they would come in into Walter Reed to meet with a number of the hospitalized veterans and the expectation was that they would spend an hour and meet with some of the vets, maybe sign some autographs, things like that. It turns out the team went and ended up staying over four hours. They were really quite engaged and moved by these veterans who have been coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan. And the team owners decided that they wanted to make support of veterans one of their signature, philanthropic efforts. So, they came to us at Mass General and I started to talk about putting together a program for veterans. And out of that, those discussions and efforts, Home Base, which was a program for returning veterans and their families were first. The, so, so, the program there evolved, but one of the lessons that we learned there had to do with the fact that when we started the program, took us about a year or so to put it together. We thought we were going to be overrun by veterans. This was at a time where there was a lot of involvement in Iraq, as well as Afghanistan. A lot of veterans were coming back with a variety of both physical and psychological injuries as a result of their service. And the VA, although trying to meet the demand, was having some well-publicized difficulties in doing that. So there was clearly a need for alternative portals for treatment for returning veterans, and importantly, for their families. So, when we started this, we had Mass General Hospital, which was an iconic institution in Boston, and certainly the Boston Red Sox, which are a big presence in Boston, we assumed that combination would create a lot of buzz and have veterans come in. So, when we opened our doors in the first month or so, I think about two people came in. And we were surprised by that and were trying to figure it out. And what became apparent was, although we had a lot of buy in, from the military establishment sort of at the top down in Washington with people there through our senators and congressmen, that we hadn’t done the necessary work to engage with the veteran community in Boston. To me, that’s where they lived, and to meet with local leadership of the veteran community. So, I don’t think there we had built up the trust necessary to be effective. 

Will Beiersdorf: We, I just want to stop you for a second because again, I think that’s that’s keys that trust me, that’s what the veteran and service member communities and especially their family, you know, are looking for, you know, from, from again, whether it’s Home Base, or now Road Home, I mean that, that trust is critical. So, I’m sorry, Go on, I’m sorry.

Mark Pollack: I think there really was a critical issue. In retrospect, it should have been obvious, but we missed it. And I think as you’ve alluded to, you know, the veteran community is a proud community and people within that community rely on each other, trust each other. You know, they’ve put their lives on the line, and, in many cases, and that family that builds up within the community is really important. So, for us initially coming in, as outsiders, I think there was suspicion and it took a while to overcome that and engage with the community. So, when I moved to Boston in 2000, and, I’m sorry, when I moved from Boston, to Chicago, in 2011, to become Chair at Rush, one of the things that I made clear in coming to Rush was that I wanted to start a program for veterans in the Chicagoland area as well. We knew from lots of data that there was a significant veteran community in the Chicagoland area and in the Midwest. National Guard, other other military personnel, and that there was a need. At that point, less than half of veterans were getting any sort of treatment. Many were not either able to access VA services or had gone and had difficulties of one form or another. And again, the VA was, I think, working to address these but in the meantime, people were not getting treated. It was clear there was a need for help and work to be done in the Chicagoland area. So, when I came to Rush, wanting to start that program, I actually found a lot of support from the leadership at Rush, really across the board. Their recognition that this was an important issue that veterans and their families would benefit from additional resources that we could provide and that it was really our responsibility and our honor to try to provide that. I’m having a senior moment. What’s the name of the foundation that? I assume you can cut, cut and paste this?

Will Beiersdorf: I’ve got a, no. Well, you know what I mean? No, yeah, I just that’s a good stopping point. Because I mean, I think, again, you came here, you sparked, you kind of laid the foundation for this, but you’re exactly right. Chicago is a great, is a great community, right? You know, the City of Big Shoulders, right? We’re, you know, we’re definitely you know we’re a tough community, but we treat our vets and all of our communities very fairly. And Rush lead with that, right? That’s the, that’s really kind of part of the Rush mission, right? I mean, they serve so many different communities and so it was a great blessing to have them on board as well as, you know, McCormick Foundation, you know, the Crown Foundation. You know, there’s so many others, there’s Bank of America, I mean, there’s so many different folks. And they, they’ve done a good job, I think, and I think when you came here, they had done some, a lot of prep work. And those communities or those foundations were ready to support. I think they raised the nice, you know, beginning sum of money to begin that process. And I think also the Welcome Back Veterans initiative with Major League Baseball was part of that. That was definitely a part of that. And, again, I think that really spurred on people’s interest.

Mark Pollack: So there was buy in and enthusiasm from Rush and importantly, McCormick Foundation, which is a Chicago based philanthropic organization that had been supportive of the program in Boston, and was enthusiastic about trying to get something going in Chicago to help in support of veterans initiatives. So, with some foundational funding from them to get launched, as well as the Rush philanthropic community really coming together and support from Welcome Back Veterans, which was a Major League Baseball initiative, we started to envision pull together a program here at Rush. Now, as I alluded to earlier, one of the lessons learned from the experience in Boston was how critical it was to gain the trust of the veterans community, to work with the veterans community, to make ourselves available, and be seen as positive agents. And critical to that initiative was to find somebody to lead the program, who understood the local veterans community. So we did a an extensive search, and met with a number of really fine people, what we were looking for somebody who both had a passion and commitment to deal with veterans issues, but also was well regarded, understood the local veteran community, and could help us engage and be seen as trusted agents. So actually, after a rather extensive search, we were fortunate enough to meet with you. And that was really a pivotal, I think, a turning point, and in the development of the program, and really set the stage for integration into veteran services in Chicago. I don’t need to tell you your own history, obviously, but having served for many years, you at a visceral level understood the issues and challenges of veterans, that when you came back, you not only went out and got a job to support your family, but you continued to serve the veterans community. Set up your own Foundation and by the time we met had been spending a decade, in addition to your day job, really working to try to help veterans who are returning and struggling help them on their pathway.

Will Beiersdorf: Why you know, Mark, I really appreciate that and is it definitely was a great opportunity and blessing because I’ll never forget when a friend of mine told me about the opportunity. You know, that Rush was looking for a executive director, you know, for this veterans programming, you know, I always share with people, I was a little apprehensive because I’m thinking, why would any academic medical center, I’m be candid here, want to get into this arena? There’s not any money to be made here. You know, this is definitely a true, you know, philanthropic goodwill gesture. And at the time I was working at Loyola Medical Center. So I didn’t know much about Rush, you know, even though I’d heard about a lot of great services and great care, but, but once I learned about Rush, and I learned about the leadership and met you, you know, it was, it was really a no brainer. But I think the great thing was that, you know, and this is where your leadership team, and the Rush leadership and all the other folks within the Rush philanthropic community, I mean, they listened to, they listened to, you know, my experiences, and the things that I learned. And you took that into consideration, and you really allowed us to develop what the Road Home has become today. I mean, it’s a great program, and we truly, truly try to serve those veterans and those family members. So, I just want to say thank you, to you, and to all the others that have been, you know, you gave us, you really allowed us to build something that was focused on serving the veterans and service members, their families, and I think that’s a, that’s a testament to you, you know, to your, you know, to your leadership that you give, you know, you give people the opportunity, and you kind of rock with it. And you trusted us. And I think that’s the thing we, you know, we’ve developed in the community. We’ve become a trusted, you know, provider of care, you know, within the community, so, and it comes back to you, really, so. It was certainly a team effort. I remember you had a vision for the kind of feel that you wanted the program to have, both in terms of how the staff interacted with the veterans coming in, but also even in the physical feel for the facility. Do you remember, sort of, thinking and designing how you wanted it to feel? Right. Yeah. And I and you, you allowed us that, you know, that freedom to do that and Rush leadership did, as well as the donors. And they, they trusted the, you know, you know, that vision and the judgment there. And so, and, you know, it took a team because what we were able to do, you know, you know, came across Dr. Niranjan Karnik and, and then other clinicians, and then today, you know, we’re, you know, we’ve got our medical director, Dr. Van Horn. I mean, everybody believes in the mission and the vision and the values. And that’s really essential. And even as we’ve grown, I mean, if you recall, when we opened up, I mean, we had a small team of seven people, you know, we thought we’d have a small little outpatient clinic and now today, it’s grown to over 70. And we’ve got not just an outpatient clinic, but an Intensive Outpatient Clinic and other services focusing on PTSD, MST and military, sexual trauma and others. But I want to take a moment to because you’ve got you, you really helped, you know, the program and building the relationships with the donors and the VSOs, Veteran Service Organization. But the thing that emerged, though, is we are proving ourselves was, was the opportunity that came up with Wounded Warrior Project, you know, and now the creation of what we call the Warrior Care Network. So, and again, that goes back to your relationships in Boston with Mass General. But, um, can you share a little bit about that story and how some of that came about, because that was another pivoting change to us really growing and, and we get – we never, I don’t think you and I ever talked about, you know, in Intensive Outpatient Program, three week program now, today, we do a two week program because of COVID and changes that have taken place but um, but can you talk a little bit about that and, and again, it goes back to, you know, your leadership and your vision have given us the ability to kind of go with it, you know. But the opportunity with Wounded Warrior Project was really was another critical part of, you know, your part of your vision, too, in helping serve veterans,

Mark Pollack: It was, it was, in many ways a fortuitous confluence coming together of different groups committed to trying to serve our veteran community and as you’ve mentioned, importantly, our family members who you know, it is, by this point a well worn, saying that while the soldiers volunteer, the families are drafted and, you know, we all have a clear recognition that the impact of service goes not just in the veteran but also on spouses, parents, children of veterans, and we all have a vision of trying to take care, not just of the veteran, but also their larger family, their loved ones. The, while we were developing our program and the program in Boston, it was growing, the Wounded Warrior Project, which was a organization that had developed, I think, in part to call attention, call the public’s attention to issues around the veterans to make sure that the needs of veterans and the impact of service on veterans, that there was publicity about that, that this was, it stayed in the public mind. So the Wounded Warrior Project had for years been doing a lot of publicity about veterans’ issues, raising money, and so forth. And they were getting calls to not just publicize issues around veterans, but were getting calls about the need for providing services. So the leadership of Wounded Warrior Project made a decision that they needed to start supporting actual treatment and growing treatment resources for veterans. So, they went to Mass General, having been aware of the program there to talk to them about it, and through that team to us, here in Chicago and ultimately made a decision to support the care of veterans to start with that at four major academic centers across the country. Mass General and Rush in the Midwest, in Emory in Atlanta down southeast, and then to support services for veterans at UCLA out in California. And the decision to do that was really critical, They provided funding that allowed us to markedly expand our treatment resources to not only continue to provide outpatient treatment, but to develop intensive outpatient experience where people from all over the country could come in and receive treatment every day, five, six days a week, 8, 10 hours a day, to get the kind of behavioral, cognitive behavioral treatments that would be helpful. Medication treatments, if appropriate, to get family and other sorts of social and supportive services into really, hopefully in a, an efficient, time sensitive manner, really get the treatment jump-started. So we developed our program at Road Home at Rush and the other centers, as well, developed programs, each somewhat a little different, but basically eschewing to similar values. And we shared information, we created a database that allowed us to track outcomes and so that we could change our practices if need be, to try to make sure that we’re providing optimal care. 

Will Beiersdorf: Yeah, and again, you know, that’s, you know, you really hit it spot on there, Mark, with kind of the whole evolution of how the Warrior Care Network came about. And again, your relationship was critical, you know, in helping bring a lot of us together. Because you had, you knew Barbara down in Emory, Barbara, Dr. Rothbaum. 

Mark Pollack: I’m not the only one getting old. 

Will Beiersdorf: You had partners. We’ve had partners that you know, Emory and UCLA, I mean, it again, there was relationships, but um, but I just want to take a step back. Again, if someone if folks are just joining us, you know, this is the Road Home Podcast and at Rush University Medical Center. I’m Will Beiersdorf, the Executive Director and the host, and I’m with Mark Pollack, Dr. Mark Pollack, excuse me, who was the Chair of Psychiatry here at Rush University Medical Center from I guess, 2011 to 2020, January 2020. And one of the key folks and really the founder of the Road Home Program at Rush and we’re just doing a quick interview talking about the history. But you know, one of the things I wanted to hit on, Mark, and I want to be cognizant of your time they know you, you have your day job, but you still got to do your new gig, as we call it back here in Chicago, but um, you know, the culture, the culture, the culture that you helped kind of create here, and I know, this is part of the Rush culture. I mean, you know, we talked about different values of, here at Rush, you know, the I CARE values, you recall that, of course. The innovation and collaboration, accountability, respect and excellence. Those are core values of Rush and we’ve embraced them at Road Home. And again, you also helped us, you know, embrace them to through your leadership. But, um, you know, I guess my question to you is, that culture of care, I mean, we definitely have created a solid culture care based on those values. But can you talk a little bit share with the folks that are joining, again, about some of those core values? And, you know, again, whether it’s innovation, you know, whether it’s a collaboration? I mean, is there any one that really stands out? You know, it kind of is, it really kind of helped cement Road Home? Or, again, are they all equally important, you know? But I just wanted to kind of hear from you. You know, your thoughts on that?

Mark Pollack: I think there were a couple of key principles and, you know, your own experience, both as a veteran and as somebody who came back from service, and was committed to helping other veterans have a successful return as well really permeated the program. To a large extent, I think one thing that we did at Road Home, which was critical, is that we made a concerted effort to hire as many veterans as possible to serve, really across the board, both administratively as therapists, and as other providers, when at all possible. And I think having a large veteran presence as part of the staff really created a sense of both trust that people who were coming in for treatment, whether veterans or family members, knew that a lot of the people that they were seeing, understood at a very visceral level, what their experience was like. That they walk the walk, and I think, created a sense of trust and respect that was really critical in helping veterans get back on their, their path. So I think that was, in some ways, one of the most critical pieces of our program, creating a place where veterans could come. Feel understood, feel safe, feel that they were working with people who really understood, in many cases, because of their own personal experience, really understood some of the difficulties and challenges that that people faced, and also the possibilities for growth and return to the kind of lives they wanted to lead.

Will Beiersdorf: Yeah, and again, it goes back to trust, right? I mean, we talked about in the beginning, as we were talking about you, you and the Rush leadership and the donor community trusted, trusted me and the team that we assembled. And, and now the veterans can see that, right? And they, and um, can feel that from the, from the clinical staff. And that’s the other thing, too, is that we have assembled such a great clinical staff here, great clinical team of psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, LCSWs and LCPCs. And that was the other thing I just wanted to make mention is that you truly allowed us to put together you know, you know, a team that really was focused on the best interests of the veteran, you know, and, and, again, had a wide range of background and experience. So, so again, you know, the, you know, what do they say? The proof is in the pudding? You know, the fact that the outcomes have been really good, you know, and veterans are really feeling like they’re getting the care that they need. Now, is it always 100%? No, you know, it isn’t and I think that’s the, the message to folks listening is that, you know, you’re dealing with folks that have, you know, these challenges with PTSD or MST or other things. I mean, you know, sometimes, you know, the tools and things we provide are great. Sometimes they don’t, right? I mean, it’s not 100%. But we’re willing to listen. We’re willing to try, right? And give these men and women an opportunity to see what we can do to help them. And, but they got to trust us first. You know, that’s what it all begins with. So, you know, I’m gonna start wrapping up here, Mark, but I just wanted to ask you, was there anything else that you want to share with folks as they listen into the, to the Road Home Podcast here? And again, this is a focus, pretty much falling back on our history and just a little bit of reflection on, you know, how we began and talking with Dr. Mark Pollack here. But anything else you want to share with the community? You know, or, you know, maybe a veteran is listening or a service member? Maybe a parent? I mean, any, any thoughts?

Mark Pollack: Yeah, you know, we’ve spent time, I guess, in today’s podcast, sort of looking back to where it started, and how you and I and many others helped launch the program, and then watch it develop. As I sort of think about the future, you know, I think what’s critical to think about is that it’s important for us to continue to keep the issues related to service in mind. That, you know, there’s lots of demands on the public’s attention. Nowadays, COVID, and, you know, political issues, and, and so forth. And it’s important that we continue to advocate for the importance of veterans, people who’ve served their country, in many cases continuing to serve their country and have made sacrifices, their families have made sacrifices. It’s really important that we continue to make sure that these veterans get the care that they deserve, and that they’ve earned. And, frankly, that it is not only for their benefit, although that’s certainly critical, but we are talking about people who are often talented, committed, passionate, who’ve demonstrated leadership through their own military service, and they are individuals who the country benefits from having back working, raising their families, and contributing to society. So, it really is a responsibility for this program, and for the country to make sure that we continue to keep veteran issues in front of mind, to make sure that we continue this work.

Will Beiersdorf: Wow, I, well said. And, you know, my philosophy is right aligned with you. I mean, when a man or woman puts that uniform on, regardless of the branch and something happens. I mean, it’s, it’s our responsibility as a nation to care for those men and women, and look out for their well-being. And you know, the other thing too, and I think I shared this with you, and I’ve shared this with other folks, but, you know, the work we do today isn’t necessarily just solely focused on today’s vets or even, you know, veterans from even prior conflicts, you know, but it’s a future conflicts. It’s future things. And, and also, I think we’re setting the tone so that, you know, when they look back to see, you know, what, what did we do then? You know, and kind of set that kind of precedent. At least we’ve, you know, at Rush, you know, and through the Warrior Care Network, and through all the other work we do, we can say we, you know, we tried to do our part to help our current veterans and their families, but also hopefully create a foundation and an opportunity so that there’s gonna be future, you know, conflicts, unfortunately, and we need to be ready. And hopefully, we learned a lot from, you know, from the from, you know, what we’ve done today that we can be prepared better for tomorrow. You know, it’s really tomorrow’s veterans and service members that and, you know, one of them could be my sons, you know, or my grandsons. Your grandson, right? I mean, that’s we have to look forward to is, how can we do a better job, you know, and that’s what I appreciate how we created the Road Home Program, again, through your leadership. And now, you know, with Dr. Shulman now, you know. He’s, he’s the acting chair here working with us, continuing to move things forward, as well, as you know, Dr. Van Horn and others, we’re continuing to try to learn and just, you know, do a better job, you know, and listen, right? And listen and build that trust. So, anything else, Dr. Pollack? 

Mark Pollack: I think we’ve covered it. 

Will Beiersdorf: I think so. All right, sir. Well, hey, thank you again. And again, for those that, you know, have been listening, you’ve been listening to the Road Home Program Podcast here at Rush University Medical Center. And if you want to learn more about the Road Home Program, you can go to You can also call us at 312-942-8387. You can also check us out on Facebook. There’s a lot of different ways to learn about us. But if you know someone who needs care with PTSD or MST, or other invisible wounds of our life, please reach out to us where we’re here for you. So again, Dr. Pollack, thanks again for your time. 

Mark Pollack: Thank you, Mr. Beiersdorf.

Will Beiersdorf: You’re welcome. Have a great day.

Mark Pollack: You, too.


About Road Home Program: The Podcast

Veterans have served our country, now it’s our turn to serve them. Road Home’s Will Beiersdorf talks with veterans and their families about their journeys transitioning to civilian life. During every episode you’ll hear from subject matter experts, like Rush clinicians, staff and community partners, discussing resources and services available to veterans to help them heal from the invisible wounds of war. Subscribe, download, or listen to other Road Home Program podcast episodes.

The Road Home Program provides mental health care and wellness to veterans of all eras, service members, and their families at no cost and regardless of discharge status. If you or a loved one needs help, call us at (312) 942-8387 (VETS) or fill out the Get Care form.