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ATTC’s Pearls of Wisdom: Relationship building starts with ‘listening’

By Catelyn Holmes, for the Mid-America ATTC


If there’s one thing Pat Stilen has learned in her decades’ long career, it’s the value of building relationships, and that starts by listening.


“Building relationships and listening, that makes all the difference in the world,” she said.


Stilen, a social worker, retired from her leadership role with the Mid-America Addiction Technology Transfer Center in March 2022. She joined MATTC in 1996, after building a relationship with the members of the staff.

Pat Stilen, former Co-Director, Mid-America ATTC

Her longstanding relationship with the MATTC began three decades ago, when she finally found someone who could listen to the problem she was having: how to introduce the then-new concept of managed care to an entire state of substance use disorder providers.


"I was calling my friend saying, 'How do you go about getting people to accept something new and eventually feel good about it, while they feel reluctant?'" she said.


Stilen sought support from her corporate office on how to make the process successful, but she says all they could say was "We don’t know, good luck".


A friend suggested she contact the directors at MATTC - Sue Giles and Mary Beth Johnson. The pair were able to provide her with the support she sought. That introduction would also change the course of Stilen’s career, leading to her becoming the Co-Director of the MATTC in 1999.

After almost a quarter century in a leadership role with the Mid-America ATTC, Stilen said she could clearly identify ways the care around SUD changed in Region 7 during her career.


The most significant change brought about by the MATTC was changing the tone around what is now known as Medications for Opioid Use Disorder (MOUD) in the region.


The four states that make up Region 7 – Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska - were some of the last in the country to adapt to MOUD.


“It felt like (other ATTCs) were lightyears ahead of us,” Stilen said.


Using the technology transfer model, MATTC was purposeful in changing the minds of regional policy makers. The center brought innovators, leaders already doing the work in their region, to the table to brainstorm how to make a real difference with policy makers. After six months of planning, a summit was held which resulted in Stilen writing a grant for buprenorphine.


“It was like the sky opened up and suddenly it was something everyone needed to do,” she said. “We’d spent years trying to do it different ways, but until we got the policy makers to open their minds we didn’t get far. That’s one of the things, [MOUD]…that’s what I’m particularly proud of.”


As proven in the success of changing the field of MOUD in the region, relationship building continues to be a key factor in successfully providing education and support in Region 7. In the ATTCs earlier years, regions were still being identified, which resulted in various occasions where states were being absorbed and transferred by different ATTC partners.


"There was loyalty on both parts,” she said.


As changes occurred, the center needed to adjust how it continued to serve states it already had connection with, while also introducing technology transfer assistance to new collaborators.


One significant means in facilitating relationships within states for Region 7 included the Leadership Institute. After initiating the Leadership Institute in Kansas at the request of the state authority, Stilen recalled providers and directors viewing it as a great opportunity. The model was adapted to other states, which helped providers meaningfully connect with MATTC, and it provided valuable leadership development that was needed at a time when preparing for professionals nearing retirement to leave the workforce.


Mid-America ATTC will be hosting its Leadership Institute in April 2023. Find out more here.


While the Leadership Institute is no longer required by SAMHSA, Mid-America's advisory board has continued to strongly suggest it be a priority. Pat explains, “It is key to develop relationships with people who participate, both as protégé and mentors".


Maintaining those longstanding relationships remains important, a lesson Lisa Carter, her successor at Mid-America ATTC, said she learned from Stilen while preparing to take over as Co-Director. 


“Pat always told me that as we were doing succession planning and training,” Carter said. “I know it to be true from my own career experiences… ‘You refer to people, not businesses.’ It’s very true. I spent last summer touring and doing meetings and it is critical.”


For her part, Stilen said she appreciates knowing that the MATTC has been able to sustain the relationships its built over the last quarter century.


"[When] they call you when they need something, you've really made it,” she said.

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The opinions expressed herein are the views of the authors and do not reflect the official position of the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), SAMHSA, CSAT or the ATTC Network. No official support or endorsement of DHHS, SAMHSA, or CSAT for the opinions of authors presented in this e-publication is intended or should be inferred.