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Dr. Shar Najafi-Piper: A Leader Inspiring Health, Hope, and Happiness

Dr. Shar Najafi-Piper | Marc Community Resources
Dr Shar Najafi Piper | Marc Community Resources

The contribution of one compassionate, committed, and dedicated individual can transform and inspire people with complex needs to live healthy and hopeful lives full of happiness.

Dr. Shar Najafi-Piper, CEO of Copa Health, is transforming mental healthcare delivery by continuously serving those who cannot serve themselves. In 1957, nine families came together to form Copa, an organization to advocate for those with intellectual, developmental, and behavioral health challenges.

Dr. Najafi-Piper shares, “Through the years, our services have expanded to include not only intellectual and developmental disabilities but also mental health conditions, housing, veteran’s services, family support, integrated primary care, case management, and psychiatric care.”

The Copa Health staff provides world-class educational, therapeutic, rehabilitative, and social services to children and adults with developmental, physical, and behavioral health challenges. It is a model of healthcare delivered through the organization’s six core values: People First, Compassion, Integrity, Perseverance, Accountability, and Innovation.

The Making of a Social Reformer:

Dr. Najafi-Piper has distinguished herself as a licensed psychologist and clinical executive over the past 23 years. Throughout her career, she has served as a behavioral health technician, outpatient counselor, team lead clinician, program/executive director of outpatient clinics, vice president of outpatient services, and president of quality care centers and behavioral services.

Talking about her journey as the CEO, she says, “I took the position in May of 2019. The integration of our two very distinct large organizations into one entity had just begun. We rebranded and created operational efficiencies within programs and support services departments.

Shortly thereafter, the COVID pandemic began, and we were put to the test to find a way to provide services and keep ourselves safe in the process. We were resilient and fast-tracked the implementation of telehealth services and launched our virtual clinic model.

We were not only able to keep our doors open but were able to grow the number of individuals we served. Now that the pandemic is easing, a multi-state service model is being planned.”

Forwarding a Fully Integrated Care Continuum:

Dr. Najafi-Piper has expertise in fully integrated continuums of care to meet the highly complex needs of behavioral health members and their families and experience in the provision of housing specific to meet the needs of developmentally disabled individuals.

She says, “Copa Health chose a purpose statement to guide its service delivery: We inspire health, hope, and happiness by delivering world-class solutions to individuals, families, and communities.”

During the past 14 years of her career, she has also demonstrated notable talent and skill on the business side of the health and human services industry. This ranges from the implementation of quality assurance functions, peer review, utilization review, as well as service and clinical protocols.

In addition, Dr. Najafi-Piper has demonstrated success in the areas of program development, contract development and negotiations, public relations, media development, and business growth through revenue diversification including both traditional and non-traditional sources.

Your Health, Our Passion:

Copa’s milestones are not unique, but create solutions within the mental healthcare delivery system, changing the face of care for those with intellectual, developmental, and behavioral health complex needs. Honoring its long presence in the community it fosters an inclusive attitude that is acknowledged by its community stakeholders and has earned the reputation for taking on members with the highest complex needs. The organization provides a working environment that respects its employees, who in turn go above and beyond in providing compassionate care for members.

Centralizing the intake of members creates consistency and allows them an opportunity to receive all services available for recovery and health. Copa Health takes a whole-person approach to integrated healthcare ensuring that world-class services and care are provided, meeting the patient where they are, and guiding them to where they want to be in creating the life that they envision.

Mission We ACT Upon:

Along with the opportunity to serve nearly a third of the Maricopa County seriously mentally ill, Copa Health also has the highest number of (Medical) Assertive Community Treatment (M)ACT teams, growing the organization’s presence in the community and enhancing services to those most at risk and in crisis.

At the same time, a level of care has been developed to close the gap between supportive treatment and the more intensive treatment of an ACT team. Members receive the level of care needed, moving between levels of care as needed, with the goal of recovery through appropriate supports.

For members receiving integrated services in Copa Health’s clinics, there is also availability for housing, employment, and counseling.

Fostering an Integrated Healthcare Ecosystem:

Copa Health is interested in fostering creative partnerships, innovative initiatives, and effecting positive community impact. Collaboration with other entities creates a model to remove service gaps for complex-care populations and offers a reputation for quality, outcomes, and growth.

Dr. Najafi-Piper shares, “Our collaboration with other organizations has grown.” When a large pediatric practice in Maricopa County sought expertise in mental health services to allow for integrated care, Copa Health fostered a partnership allowing the practice to rely on its experience in hiring and training mental health professionals. This innovative collaboration brings much-needed integrated services to children receiving primary care and becomes a model for other practices to adopt while addressing the sometimes overlooked mental health needs of children.

Bridging the Gaps:

Another partnership created 90 beds in a warm, welcoming assisted living facility for severely mentally ill members that are 55+ and provided onsite care from Copa Health’s mental health professionals. Along with the amenities of the facility enhancing quality of life, members also avoid the possibility of food insecurity and homelessness.

Copa was among the first to utilize data from the Health Information Exchange in the tracking of the pandemic on the severely mentally ill (SMI) population. This gave a reliable source of data on infections and hospitalizations. Copa was able to proactively extend support to members in isolation to avoid the spread of the virus. It experienced a lower-than-average infection rate and mortality when measured against the County.

Copa Health spearheaded the development of two Accountable Care Organizations (ACO) in Arizona. ACOs are designed to bridge gaps in care and advocate at all levels to provide innovative care for the community while reducing the overall cost of care. Each ACO is a collaboration of top behavioral health providers that work together to provide comprehensive care to those with complex needs.

Expanding the Healthcare Platform through Virtual Telehealth:

Copa Health was able to continue to provide all services during the pandemic by utilizing technology and accelerating the implementation phase of its telehealth platform, which was already in process, from six months to one week to avoid the closure of services.

The organization studied the readiness and capabilities of members to embrace technology. Copa identified technology literacy and device availability for members allowing programs to address any obstacles to embracing technology.

Over the past year, Copa sought and piloted a mobile device technology to connect providers more easily to members, whereby no app needs to be downloaded on the member’s device to connect with their provider.

The result is a menu of services that is accessible by patients in the way that works for them, be it in person, through telehealth, Zoom, or a hybrid.

Encountering the Challenges and Overcoming the Pandemic:

Speaking about COVID-19, Dr. Najafi-Piper shares, “The pandemic tested the resiliency of the Copa Health team, but we were able to persevere and in doing so, met and exceeded the key performance indicators supporting the strategic plan initiatives that were developed before the beginning of the pandemic.”

A Philosophy of Diversity:

As an established industry leader, Dr. Najafi-Piper’s advice to the budding entrepreneurs and enthusiasts aspiring to venture into the mental healthcare industry is philosophical. She says, “I would stress the importance of a servant-leadership philosophy, which supports diversity and employee satisfaction.

Lead with transparency and mentorship and build a talented team. Compassionate, mission-driven care is key in the mental health field. And also knowing that at first, you need to initiate any project with a mission and ensure that you are fiscally efficient in the way in which you deliver services.”

Embracing the Future with Open Arms:

Envisioning further strengthening Copa Health’s stronghold in the future, Dr. Najafi-Piper reveals it will be accomplished by growing through mergers and acquisitions and penetrating the market.

“And supporting our service structure, which includes integrated outpatient care, housing, and employment services for those with complex needs. Finally, to grow the organization into a multistate area, with service delivery in five states within ten years,” she concludes.

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