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Jim Hackett
jim Hackett
Daughter’s ordeal leads CEO to add mental-health benefits for employees

Jim Hackett is president and CEO of Anadarko, a Fortune 500 oil-and-gas company with more than $20 billion in assets. He and his wife, Maureen, came face to face with a true parental nightmare—their 16-year-old daughter was sexually assaulted at a boarding school.

At first, their daughter said nothing. She stopped eating. She lost weight. Then the perpetrator of the attack sent her a note threatening to kill her if she told anyone. This triggered the full onset of her post-traumatic-stress syndrome.

“My wife and I traveled to the school and found her in a fetal position,” says Hackett. “She essentially went into a catatonic state.” It took weeks to piece together the complete story about how she had been abducted from the school cafeteria and assaulted.

The incident would have a huge impact on the family. “We learned that you can have a very healthy child,” says Hackett, “and, because of a single incident, she can basically be lost to the world.”

The Hacketts used every resource available to them to try to help their daughter rebound emotionally and psychologically. But it wasn’t easy. Their daughter rarely spoke. The Hacketts hired a policeman to help her feel safer, but external security alone could not restore her peace of mind. She had severe panic attacks, and her parents had to rush her to a hospital emergency room on multiple occasions.

“I’ve instituted mental-health parity in the past three companies I’ve been involved with. The additional costs are less than one percent for mental-health coverage. But it’s not
a cost issue. It’s a productivity issue.”

“This affected us for two years,” Hackett says. “Of course it was tough to fully focus on work, because I was worried that another phone call would come, and I would be rushing to her aid at a moment’s notice. What struck us was, what if this happens to a family that doesn’t have the resources we did or the emotional support of two loving parents? Do other families ever get their children back?”

The Hacketts were fortunate. Their daughter eventually received excellent care at the Menninger Clinic (then in Topeka, Kansas, but now in Houston) and worked closely with a female psychiatrist who helped with their daughter’s recovery. About two years after the assault, she was finally able to testify against the perpetrator and, as a result, see him receive a 20-year prison sentence.

“I’m so proud of her,” says Hackett. His daughter still deals with fear every day, but going public has helped her. “She told her story three years ago at the annual gala of the Mental Health Association of Houston, in front of 500 people. She sang a song, “Alive,” by Celine Dion, in honor of her psychiatrist. She’s incredible.”

Hackett is deeply committed to the idea of mental-health parity when it comes to health-insurance benefits for his employees. “I’ve instituted mental-health parity in the past three companies I’ve been involved with,” he says. “The additional costs are less than one percent for mental-health coverage. But it’s not a cost issue. It’s a productivity issue. What happened to my family could happen to anyone. And they would probably be less prepared emotionally and/or financially than we were. There’s no reason the support shouldn’t be there, when people face a crisis like this.”

Hackett believes that providing different levels of benefits for mental illness and physical illness is unjustified. “It’s a matter of fairness,” he says. “Science tells us that mental illnesses should be treated the same as physical illnesses. These illnesses of the brain respond to medication and treatment, like other illnesses. And, if untreated, they get worse.”

Hackett is frustrated by businesses that see mental-health parity as nothing more than a cost issue. “Too many business folks say they’re not going to consider doing anything that increases costs,” she says. “But investing in better care for your people is no different than investing in better technology. At the end of the day, you need to measure productivity, not just costs.”

While individual businesses can ensure that their employees have health-care benefits that cover the full spectrum of illnesses, Hackett believes the federal government could play an important role in eliminating the stigma that helps undermine full mental-health benefits. “It’s a little like seatbelts in Detroit years ago,” Hackett says, explaining that none of the Big Three automakers wanted to be the first to install them, citing cost and competition. After the federal government passed a law requiring seat belts, many lives were saved.

“The federal government could do the same thing for this nation’s mental health by ensuring that people with mental illnesses are treated with fairness,” says Hackett. “It’s in everyone’s interest to do that. My life’s journey has shown me that, sooner or later, mental illness will touch every family. Why not work together to protect ourselves and the ones we love the most?”