Anne Constantino is retiring in June as the president and CEO of Horizon Corporations, ending nearly four decades of service in the mental health and substance abuse treatment fields.
Horizon is a not-for-profit corporation and the largest provider of mental health and substance abuse treatment in Western New York.
“We really just help people to make the decisions that they need to make with the resources that will help them to achieve their goals,” Constantino said.
Horizon hired Constantino in 1986 as a counselor to help start programming for substance abuse services. She said the organization was a perfect fit.
She has led the agency since 1994 during a period of significant growth for the agency that now has some 800 clinical and administrative employees.
Constantino agreed to an interview with News 4 to reflect on her career and the state of affairs for mental health services in the region, which is a subject News 4 Investigates has reported on extensively this year.
Not only is she recognized as a key advocate for mental health and substance abuse services, but Horizon under her guidance is often recognized as one of the best places to work in New York, as well.
In a statement announcing her retirement, Constantino said that her work has been “meaningful, sometimes difficult, and sometimes heartbreaking, but always rewarding.”
One of the biggest challenges Constantino saw over the years was how mental health care took a backseat to medical health care in terms of funding. Hospitals and mental health physicians have long complained about inadequate reimbursements for services from federal programs such as Medicaid and an outdated billing system for insurance that doesn’t reimburse for services that lack a specific billing code.
“On the capacity side, I will say that the industry … the behavior health industry has been largely ignored for all those years that I’ve been in the field,” Constantino said.
Constantino will exit the field at a time when mental health care finally seems to be getting the attention of elected leaders, including Gov. Kathy Hochul, who pitched spending $1 billion to boost mental health access and services.
“The era of ignoring mental health needs is over,” Hochul confirmed during a Feb. 2 speech in the Bronx where she highlighted her mental health proposals in the budget.
Constantino said she is optimistic about the “ambitious” plan Hochul has pitched but knows more work will be needed to bring mental health services on a more equal playing field with medical health services in an era when both industries are facing hiring and worker retention crises.
“I like ambitious plans,” Constantino said. “And I think we need to all keep our eye on the ball and hold everybody accountable to moving this forward.”
Horizon Chief Operating Officer Erin DiGiorlamo will fulfil the role of CEO once Constantino leaves in June, and the nonprofit’s senior vice president, Brandy Vandermark-Murray, will be president.
Dan Telvock is an award-winning investigative producer and reporter who has been part of the News 4 team since 2018. See more of his work here and follow him on Twitter.