Vice President and Medical Director of Behavioral Health at Lee Health
As a strong believer in the idea “the child is the father of the man,” Dr. Paul Simeone embarked on a journey to increase access to children’s mental health services in Southwest Florida when he joined Lee Health in November 2018.
“Dr. Simeone has been an incredible gift to the growth and commitment of the mental health programs of Lee Health for children and adults in Southwest Florida,” said Kids’ Minds Matter Co-founder Susan Goldy. “His expertise in community mental health and his outreach to other providers throughout Lee, Collier and nearby counties has already made a significant impact on children and families who wouldn’t otherwise have access to quality mental health care.”
Simeone, a seasoned mental health professional who describes his greatest passion as “making meaning out of life and helping others do the same,” is on a continual mission to help children and families gain access to the resources they need to cope and thrive.
- How did you become involved with Kids Mind Matter?
I first became involved with KMM when I met my good friends, Susan Goldy and Scott Spiezle, the founders of that wonderful grassroots organization. It’s a very funny story of a chance meeting on a choral tour of Italy four years ago, while I was still living and practicing in Massachusetts. Susan and Scott played a central role in helping to recruit me down here, and I have been very closely involved with KMM since that time.
- As vice president and medical director of behavioral health at Lee Health, how are you working to facilitate the program’s expansion?
I have three primary functions. The first is to develop a strategic plan for the creation of necessary pediatric and adult behavioral services with the Lee Health system. The second and related task is to build out programs, services and various resources that inspire and breathe life into that strategic plan. Finally, and in some ways most importantly, my role is to take what we have at Lee and collaborate with our community partners to enhance the behavioral health of children, adults and families in Southwest Florida. Robust expansion is ongoing within the hospital by increasing staff, access and programs, while equally impressive partnerships are occurring with many agencies in our region.
- What is the most rewarding part of your job?
There is a beautiful idea in the Jewish tradition called “Tikkun Olam” which, roughly translated, means “to heal and repair the world.” This has been a value deeply held ever since I was a young man. As a clinician, teacher and leader, this means having the opportunity to serve in a variety of roles, all of which seek to improve the human condition. And, since no one can do any of this alone, I have the blessing of friends, colleagues and community partners with whom I share this vital calling.
- By taking children’s mental health seriously, do you think we can reduce the prevalence of mental health issues in adults?
The answer to this question is an emphatic, “Yes!” Currently, the wait for services from the time of first symptom to getting help is a whopping eight-to-10 years. This is completely unacceptable, especially as new research makes clear the value of prevention and early intervention in mitigating later behavioral health problems.
- What might people be surprised to learn about you?
I always tell people that no one is more surprised than me that I landed in the life that I now lead. That’s very good news, because, like so many people who take a wayward route, I didn’t do things in the typical fashion. I was a smart kid who struggled a lot in school, largely out of boredom, inattention and inadequate parental guidance. Neither of my parents graduated from high school, so I was a working-class kid who tended to get into minor trouble, mostly out of unfed curiosity. The thing that righted my life was getting interested in racing motorcycles, undergirded by a mentor who served very much as a surrogate father. I quit racing just before I turned professional, a hard thing to do for any serious athlete who was still winning, as I was under duress to go to college. It was there that I became a serious student and have never really looked back since. Now, at the ripe old age of 63, having had two wonderful kids and an amazing wife, I see myself as blessed well beyond what I deserve. And I tell people who are struggling with themselves and their direction, there is hope for us all!
For more information on Kids’ Minds Matter, visit www.leehealthfoundation.org/kids-minds-matter.
By Autumn Gates