Growing up in a small town in Maine, Valerie Dionne, a licensed clinical social worker, learned the value of taking care of her community from a young age.
“I asked my dad, ‘Why do we have so many keys hanging on our key chain?’” said Dionne. “He replied saying they belonged to neighbors who might need our help shoveling their roof, installing new steps — or maybe we just need to drop by and check on them.”
Her parents’ generosity cemented Dionne’s core belief of being of service to others. And, that strong foundation set her up for a lifetime of community-focused work.
Her efforts recently resulted in her winning Kaiser Permanente’s 2023 George Halvorson Community Health Leadership Award. The award, named after Kaiser Permanente’s chairman and CEO from 2002 to 2013, honors exemplary leadership in advancing Kaiser Permanente’s mission to improve the health of the communities we serve.
A gifted educator
During her more than 2 decades at Kaiser Permanente, Dionne has worked to improve the health of our communities in many ways.
One of her biggest contributions has been educating future mental health professionals. She brings a unique and powerful set of skills to her training roles — she began her career as a high school teacher and sports coach. She then attained a master’s degree in social work.
Her skillfulness in developing and supporting clinical training is especially important due to our nation’s severe shortage of licensed mental health professionals.
For most of her career at Kaiser Permanente, she’s supervised unlicensed trainees.
“Supervision is special in the way that it involves relationship-building, teaching, coaching, supporting, oversight, and instilling professional ethics and values in the next generation of clinicians,” said Dionne.
A dream come true
For many years, Dionne was director of the social work training program at the Kaiser Permanente Los Angeles Medical Center’s Department of Psychiatry. Then, she heard about our new Behavioral Health Training Institute in Southern California.
“I always dreamed of taking my small training program and growing it across Kaiser Permanente. When the Kaiser Permanente Behavioral Health Training Institute was announced, and I heard about the plan to expand mental health professional development, I knew I had to be involved,” said Dionne.
The institute provides clinical training to Kaiser Permanente employees working to become mental health therapists.
“During this critical moment in time, we must prioritize mental health care and mental health service delivery. Our communities and patients need us,” said Dionne, who is now a clinical program manager and clinical supervisor mentor at the institute.
The Behavioral Health Training Institute is connected to broader national work we’re doing at Kaiser Permanente to increase our mental health workforce over the coming years. We’re expanding the pool of diverse, qualified mental health clinicians and improving our patients’ access to high-quality care.
Commitment that changes lives
During her time working in the Department of Psychiatry at our Los Angeles Medical Center, Dionne co-created a number of mental health and wellness groups for members. She was also a driving force behind an internal team of clinical leaders who developed a suite of digital tools to support patients’ mental health and wellness.
Valerie Dionne (center holding flowers) poses with some of her colleagues at the Kaiser Permanente Behavioral Health Training Institute.
“Valerie has been a brilliant trailblazer in work that is now supporting so many Kaiser Permanente members across the country,” said Dionne’s colleague Leigh Miller, who is also a licensed clinical social worker. “She looks at people holistically when considering how to support them. If you want someone to get the job done, she’ll make it happen.”
As the winner of the annual George Halvorson Community Health Leadership Award, Dionne was awarded a $10,000 contribution to a charity of her choice. She chose Straightening Reins, where Dionne and her wife volunteer. The Los Angeles-based nonprofit specializes in equine-assisted and interactive therapies (therapies involving horses) designed to improve adolescent and teen mental health.