Michael Phelps Headlines An Evening of Togetherness, Excitement and Authenticity
The Medical Alley Association hosted its 2022 Annual Dinner at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis on May 12. The sold-out event promised — and delivered — an evening of stimulating conversation, engaging speakers and an inspirational discussion with Olympic champion Michael Phelps.
Phelps, who was originally scheduled to speak at the 2020 dinner, is a tireless and passionate advocate for mental health. His participation was all the more welcomed by attendees at this year’s function as we gathered with renewed energy and an increased spirit of solidarity.
Commitment to Advancing Mental Health
May is Mental Health Month and an ideal opportunity for us to deeply focus on eliminating stigmas that shadow mental health conditions, as well as innovate solutions for more effective care delivery.
Medical Alley is deeply committed to supporting and accelerating our region’s efforts to advance mental health. In 2021, the association launched the Health Equity working group to increase mental health access, as well as identify barriers and remove career hurdles to diversify the mental health workforce.
James Hereford, president and CEO of Fairview Health Services and Medical Alley Association board director, presented the need to move beyond the status quo in mental health care. He shared the urgency for us to “develop interventions that meet patients where they are, offer more customized treatments and allow them to have treatment in spaces that are safe and comfortable to them with the support of loved ones.”
A Celebration Years in the Making
First hosted in 2016, this annual dinner celebrates the life-changing work accomplished by the Medical Alley community and inspires us to continue forward in innovating healthcare.
Everyone was thrilled to meet again in person at U.S. Bank Stadium. Gathering at this unbeatable venue, lit by a bright, early-summer sun, the event kicked off with a main reception on the field.
With nearly 1,200 guests in attendance representing 675 organizations, the room was abuzz with conversation as the crowd refreshed acquaintances from earlier events and made new ones with the many first-time attendees.
Dynamic Speakers Energized Our Community to Confront Stigmas Around Mental Health
Following the reception, Alison Richards, CEO of Bind Benefits, this year’s presenting sponsor, stepped on stage as dinner was served. Richards introduced the topic of mental health and shared her personal experience of struggling to find the right resources for her daughter, a competitive sports player, who suffered the effects of the pandemic due to anxiety induced by social isolation.
“But here’s the good news,” she asserted, “we know that we can break the stigma. We can innovate and improve existing systems and processes. When we talk about mental health, it makes others more comfortable seeking out care and resources for their own needs.” She stressed the importance of collective mindshare and organizational capabilities to make this happen.
James Rogers, chief business development officer at Mayo Clinic, recapped several of the groundbreaking ideas and innovations that surfaced during the pandemic: new devices, new protocols, new tests and treatments, clinical trials, scientific publications, ventilator hacks, telehealth innovations, as well as diversity, equity and inclusion advances, to name a few. “Take a look around you,” he told us. “You’re looking at advocates, caretakers, heroes and visionaries. You have proved, once again, that Minnesota and Medical Alley is the center of innovation and care.”
He also shared yet another award received by Medical Alley, the prestigious “E-Award” by President Biden and the U.S. Department of Commerce, which “celebrates our ability to increase exports of medical technology consulting services and bring new businesses to the region.”
Next, Medical Alley’s new president and CEO, Roberta (Bobbie) Dressen, spoke about the importance of the association and how it’s “been a driving force behind the thriving, local healthcare industry, creating careers and economic benefits for Minnesota and the Midwest for nearly 40 years.” She expressed her eagerness to meet all the members and work together to eliminate the stigma associated with mental health conditions through awareness.
James Hereford was the final speaker before Michael Phelps took the stage. Representing more than 34,000 M Health Fairview professionals, Hereford described the state’s first EmPATH unit, which stands for emergency psychiatric assessment, treatment and healing, was created “in order to break the loop of repeated hospital admission.” He also mentioned how Medical Alley created the Health Equity working group in 2021 to increase mental health access and diversify the mental health workforce by identifying barriers and removing career hurdles.
He then eagerly introduced guest speaker, Olympic great Michael Phelps, whose record-breaking number (28!) of Olympic medals speak clearly of his determined ability to do what has never been done before.
Michael Phelps Urged Us to “Lift up the Rug” and Talk About Mental Health
Phelps is an iconic American athlete, a true superpower in the sport of swimming. Now, he advocates for physical and mental health, driven by the staggering immensity of mental health conditions in the United States and beyond.
Phelps was interviewed by Amy Ronneberg, CEO of Be The Match, and Jonathan Pearce, CEO of Memento morAI. When asked how he rose above the stigma that clouds mental health conditions, Phelps shared a story from his days competing in the Olympics. He recalled sitting with a reporter who was asking him questions and opening up. He recounted, “All the things I was struggling with and going through, for whatever reason, it just felt like the right place and time to talk about it.” He described that moment as feeling “pretty incredible.”
Phelps said he had always looked at himself as a swimmer — and that was it. But after that interview, he felt like a human being. “I look in the mirror and see me, for me.”
With his long legs stretched out, Phelps delivered remarkably simple and straightforward insights and responses that attendees embraced, nodding their heads.
He shared his belief that the biggest barriers in dealing with mental health issues are often personal: Who do I talk to? Who do I ask? Who can I get help from?
He talked about getting to such a low point that he wanted to commit suicide. He knew there were other actions he could take and wanted to understand why he compartmentalized things about his life.
“One of the biggest things I had to do was become vulnerable. That’s a scary word,” he shared. “But me having vulnerability is why I’m sitting here on the stage today.”
The truth, he continued, is we all have struggles and while it’s scary to be vulnerable, it’s OK. “It’s OK to not be OK. Be you,” he affirmed.
And he advised those in leadership positions to be human. To offer help to someone who is struggling. Take something off their plate if you can. Phelps knows the importance of connection and being part of a team. Being on a team includes being vulnerable and helping those around you.
To accomplish our goals requires authenticity. This includes the good, the bad and the ugly. Phelps shared that his depression still pops up, but he doesn’t shy away from that being his reality. His response is to talk, to pick the phone, to text, to hit the gym. “Take one step forward every single day.”
As the suicide rate climbs, Phelps warned it will continue to do so until we decide to talk about it. “We have to, have to, have to communicate,” he repeated. “We’ve swept mental health issues under the rug for so long — and it has to stop. Lift that rug up.”
And Phelps does much more than talk about mental health. The Michael Phelps Foundation (MPF) and IM program work “to promote healthy, active lives” which includes emotional wellness. In 2017, he opened up about being bullied and dealing with depression and severe anxiety in the documentary, “Angst.” He speaks passionately and often to groups on the topic of mental health, sharing his message to communicate.
He asks leaders to lead by example. To open up so others will open up. “I don’t like to say the word can’t, butwe can’t stop. My goal is to change the mental health world,” he shared. “What does that look like? I don’t know. I am going to change the mental health world, I can guarantee you that — and I can guarantee it won’t be in a small way.”
Phelps concluded by sharing that he can talk about his struggles because he talked and continues to talk about them. “When you say something, talk about something, you’re changing, you’re growing,” he enthused. “There are solutions out there.”
Inspired by Phelps and our Community’s Strength to Find Solutions
Bobbie Dressen reflected on the evening’s success, “The response to this year’s theme demonstrates a deep commitment to advancing mental health care and supporting healthier, more authentic communities. Medical Alley will continue to energetically and strategically support our members’ innovative efforts to improve mental health care for greater national and global well-being.”
An afterparty with music from Seaforth offered a fitting, lively end to the evening’s dynamic events. Everyone in attendance enjoyed the opportunity to recognize and celebrate collective achievements. These include Governor Walz’s proclamation of April 29, 2021, as “Medical Alley Day” in Minnesota, as well as the launch of Medical Alley Starts, a venture program helping new companies locally and around the world.
The 2022 annual dinner marked an exciting, successful new chapter for Medical Alley Association and all its members as we continue to pursue our passions and achieve our visions as the Global Epicenter of Health Innovation and Care®. Medical Alley is dedicated to supporting and accelerating our members’ work to advance all aspects of healthcare, with special focus on mental health and well-being.
The Medical Alley Association thanks Michael Phelps, our guest speakers, and all those involved in planning and executing this enjoyable and inspiring event — as well as all of those who attended.
We hope to see you at upcoming Medical Alley Association member events and the 2023 annual dinner!