As a leader with exceptionally wide experience, Karen Burns brings technical knowledge and cultural understanding of the community-managed mental health sector to her role as Deputy Commissioner at a time of unprecedented system change.
The National Disability Insurance Scheme, and the devolution of some Commonwealth mental health planning and funding to regional Primary Health Networks, have caused enormous disruption to the funding and external relationships of the community mental health sector.
“It’s about positioning the Commission to provide the right sort of support that will let the non-government organisations flourish,” says Ms Burns, who is the CEO of UnitingRecovery. “There is great opportunity to optimise the way we operate to be much more responsive to local needs.”
She is also interested in developing leadership and business skills among NGO executives to help them respond to the more entrepreneurial operating environment resulting from the system changes.
But she also cautions that we must make efforts to sustain and protect small, highly specialised organisations, and they will need support to ensure the community does not lose their valuable work.
With professional qualifications in nursing and psychology , Ms Burns has worked in adult and adolescent mental health, drug and alcohol and tele-health services across the government, private and community-managed sectors. She was motivated to work in mental health by her childhood experience of seeing her family inclusively support a relative with a severe and persistent mental illness, and believes strongly in, “diversity and difference in regard to how people choose to live their lives and how they engage with their experience of the world.”
Ms Burns will now stand down from her role as Chair of the Commission’s Community Advisory Council, which she has held since its inception in 2013.
She is also currently the Chair of the Mental Health Coordinating Council, the NSW peak for community-managed organisations working in mental health.