Karen Huntsman, center, is surrounded by family members during a press conference at the University of Utah’s Park Building in Salt Lake City on Nov. 4, 2019, where the Huntsman family announced a $150 million commitment to establish the Huntsman Mental Health Institute at the U. A new CEO of the Huntsman Mental Health Institute was announced on Monday.

Steve Griffin, KSL, File

Inaugural CEO announced for Utah's Huntsman Mental Health Institute

By Marjorie Cortez, Deseret News | Posted - Nov. 17, 2020 at 11:50 a.m.


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SALT LAKE CITY — Dr. Mark Rapaport, chairman of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Emory University School of Medicine, has been named the inaugural CEO of the Huntsman Mental Health Institute.

Rapaport will also serve as chairman of the U.'s Department of Psychiatry. He is currently chief of psychiatric services at Emory Healthcare in Atlanta. The announcement was made during a press conference Monday.

Rapaport said he was honored to serve as the first CEO of the mental health institute, noting its creation "reflects the amazing foresight, generosity and commitment of one of the most ethically committed visionary philanthropic families in the United States, the Huntsman family."

The family's leadership has changed the world between "tackling the scourge of cancer to empowering the people of Armenia to rebuild their lives after the earthquake in 1988 and now they're directing their energy and their passion to address the tsunami of mental health and brain disorders," Rapaport said.

Rapaport's appointment comes a year after the University of Utah announced the Huntsman family's commitment of $150 million to establish the Huntsman Mental Health Institute. The institute is expected to become a nationally recognized leader in research, care, education and community outreach.

Huntsman Foundation President David Huntsman said the family is pleased with Rapaport's appointment.

"We are confident that Dr. Rapaport's vision will build on the legacy of comprehensive mental health care that the university has provided our community for many years. His experience will help us build a world-class institution and shape how we approach mental health treatment and care in the future so we see more positive outcomes for the people of Utah and beyond," Huntsman said in a statement.

The institute will launch in 2021 and sustain the Department of Psychiatry and University Neuropsychiatric Institute's numerous programs designed to serve psychiatric patients across their lifespan.

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Dr. Michael Good, senior vice president for health sciences and CEO of University of Utah Health, said Rapaport's appointment comes at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the existing strain on the mental health care system.

"We're in the midst of a mental health crisis. One in 5 Utahns is suffering poor mental health and less than half are receiving the treatment that they need," Good said.

Suicide is a leading cause of death in Utah, he said.

"Today, that crisis now also takes on a global pandemic that we're dealing with. Both the pandemic and its effect on our economy have impacted individual mental health and created new challenges for those already suffering from mental illness and from substance abuse disorders," he said.

University of Utah President Ruth Watkins said the Huntsman family's gift that created the mental health institute means the U. "can be a national leader in research, compassionate treatment, education and community outreach."

Several projects and innovations are underway to improve mental health services for college students and increased access to mental health services in rural Utah.

"It draws upon our strengths as a research institution to identify genetic underpinnings of mental illness and best practices in treatment," Watkins said.

Watkins thanked Rapaport for embracing the U.'s mission.

"We thank you for bringing your experience, your expertise and your excellence to ensure that we have a world-class Huntsman Mental Health Institute here at the University of Utah," she said.

A board-certified psychiatrist, Rapaport has written more than 180 articles for peer-reviewed publications as American Journal of Psychiatry, Biological Psychiatry, Journal of Clinical Psychiatry and Neuropsychopharmacology, according to his Emory University biography.

Before joining Emory University, Rapaport was the chairman of psychiatry and behavioral neurosciences at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and a professor of psychiatry at both Cedar-Sinai and the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.

He also previously served as director of the mental health outpatient clinical research center in the Department of Psychiatry at University of California, San Diego and has served as the first chairman of the National Institute on Drug Abuse clinical trials network's data safety monitoring board and chairman of its special review committee.

His research interests are focused on psychopharmacology, and he has investigated the biologic genesis of anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, depression and immunity abnormalities in psychotic and mood disorders.

Rapaport graduated cum laude in biology from the University of California San Diego, where he also earned his medical degree and completed his residency in psychiatry.

He said he looks forward to returning to the West to be closer to his children and enjoy the mountains. He succeeds Dr. James Ashworth, who has served as interim chairman since June 2019.

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Marjorie Cortez

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