Published August 18, 2009
Volume 17, Number 8

Neisha Becton: Compassion and Determination Can Change the World

By Nicole Zaro Stahl

Compassion and determination coexist comfortably in the persona of Neisha Becton. Even before the CEO of Hacienda-based Becton Healthcare Resources (BHR) took her first psychology class as a freshman in high school, she knew she would have some kind of career in healthcare.

The introduction to psychology confirmed mental health as her direction. “It was a match from the beginning,” recalls the Orange County native, who in September will celebrate the 10th anniversary of the behavioral healthcare management company she founded based on a long-held dream.

Becton prepared carefully to reach this landmark anniversary. Back in high school, her teacher helped her map out a track of volunteer opportunities, internships, and academic coursework that would equip her for the future. Becton’s goal was to work her way around the entire mental health field to get a sense for where she was best suited and how she could best contribute.

Her next step was coming north to attend Notre Dame de Namur University in Belmont. She gained experience with many different populations—the mentally ill, emotionally disturbed youth, the developmentally disabled—and eventually found her place working with the severely mentally ill. “These are people with a chronic mental illness that they will have to live with for the rest of their lives,” she explains. “With a combination of medication and psychotherapy they can become productive citizens and live the happy and healthy life to which they are entitled. We help them see that there is light at the end of the tunnel.”

Throughout, she has been inspired by a singular observation from the anthropologist Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

With this conviction, Becton completed her graduate degree in counseling psychology and became a director with a developmental disabilities program based in southern California. It was her subsequent move that provided the exposure to all aspects of the operational side of mental health care--and put her on the entrepreneurial path. In 1992 she joined Psychiatric Management Resources (PMR), a large national provider of services for individuals with serious and persistent mental illnesses, and advanced through operations and marketing to the post of regional vice president. “My job was to open up mental health facilities in all parts of the country—negotiating contracts, hiring physicians, managing overall growth and quality of care.” With a territory that spread from California to Arizona, Texas, Arkansas, Washington, Michigan, and Hawaii, she was frequently on the road, launching new programs every year. 

In 1999, with a husband and young children and the sense that it was time to implement her own vision, she left PMR to found Becton Healthcare Resources. As a national practice management group, BHR designs, manages, and assists providers with partial, emergency, inpatient, and outpatient psychiatric services. “We provide healthcare organizations with innovative mental health systems that enhance patient care, quickly identify client needs, and utilize resources more efficiently,” Becton says.

BHR has grown to include almost 70 employees and several partnerships with medical providers in both Alameda and Contra Costa counties, and in Detroit, where Becton had previous business ties. The firm also helped open and now manages four Pathways to Wellness clinics, with roughly 30 physicians and clinicians on staff.

Hiawatha Harris, M.D., is the owner of the Pathways clinics, established at Becton’s suggestion. “Dr. Harris and I used to work together. He’s a phenomenal doctor, and when I branched off to set up my own company, we started talking about opening a clinic under his direct medical leadership. We were having dinner one night at a restaurant and came up with the Pathways to Wellness name. The rest is history.”

The first Pathways opened in January 2000 in Oakland, and two months later another debuted in Union City. The Pleasanton/Tri-Valley clinic opened in 2007, when BHR moved into its new corporate headquarters at 5674 Stoneridge Drive. The Martinez clinic opened shortly thereafter.

Despite the many responsibilities, compared to her previous positions Becton finds her current pace much more manageable. “This is easier than what I had to do at PMR, all that traveling and starting new programs. Now I have a staff who can help to do that.” The work is also more rewarding: “I miss doing direct client care, but I see myself now as a mental health advocate and I know clients have care thanks to our clinics.”

Becton grew up in Southern California with what she calls “strong family values.”  Were her parents surprised to see her become an entrepreneur? “Probably not,” she replies. “They didn’t know exactly what I would do when I grew up. They tell stories about me as a child, putting on shows in the backyard for the neighborhood kids. The chairs would be all lined up and the kids would come through the gate with tickets. My mom would say, ‘where did all these kids come from?’ I have always been the kind of person who would take the lead and stand up for those who couldn’t speak for themselves,” she says thoughtfully.

Over the years she has learned some important lessons that supplement her natural leadership skills.  “As a business owner, I know that the accountability stops right here. I need to have really clear strategies and directives for my team. No one comes in to this company, no matter the level, without interviewing with me. I’m the last pair of eyes or ears—in person, over the phone, over the webcam with Detroit. I explain the vision to make sure we’re on the same path and that they really want to join the organization.

“This is a hard field, and funding is limited,” she points out. “The people I’ve hired are truly dedicated to helping others, but it’s not just that their heart goes out. They have to help problem-solve, and they must believe things can get better.”

Among those she has hired is her brother, Cedric Hurskin, who serves as COO. After her father, George Hurskin, retired from Lockheed, Becton invited him to sign on as well, and he worked at BHR until he passed away this spring. “My dad’s passing is a major loss to our company. He was really committed to the staff and clients in Long Beach. They had such warm relationships,” she comments.

In his memory, Becton is planning to open a wellness center in each Pathways clinic, offering free information about the wide variety of resources for the mentally ill, from homeless shelters to food banks and bus passes.  “The centers will let people know what’s available for them and how to find the services they need. Ultimately we would like them to be client run.” She will announce the opening of the first Hurskin Wellness Center at the anniversary celebration this fall.

Confronting the fact that budgets cutbacks everywhere make for trying times, Becton shows her determination: “We have to continue to advocate. Mental illness can touch any family, and the infrastructure must stay in place, so when people need care they will have it.”


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