Center Director/Professor-in- Residence
Kenneth B. Wells, MD, MPH, is the David Weil Endowed Professor and Director of the Center for Health Services and Society of the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences at UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine and Professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management at the Fielding School of Public Health. He is also Affiliated Adjunct Staff of the RAND Corporation and Staff Psychiatrist at the West Los Angeles Veterans Administration Health System. He received his M.D. from the University of California, San Francisco, and his M.P.H. from the UCLA School of Public Health, and is a graduate of the UCLA-Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Clinical Scholars Program. Dr. Wells, a psychiatrist and health services researcher, has led a number of studies of how variations in health services systems and financing affect clinical care as well as on the use of Community-Partnered Participatory Research to address disparities in access to and outcomes of services for depression. Dr. Wells is the academic Principal Investigator (PI) of Community Partners in Care (CPIC), which was funded by NIMH, National Institute for Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD) and the Patient Centered Outcomes Research Institute for longer-term outcomes. Dr. Wells is joint Principal Investigator of an evaluation of crisis intervention and prevention programs (SB82/833), funded by the Mental Health Services Act. Also a leader in training, Dr. Wells is Associate Director of the UCLA National Clinician Scholars Program and was previously CoDirector of the UCLA Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholars Program. Dr. Wells also co-led the American Red Cross grant in history to support mental health recovery efforts in New Orleans post-Katrina, as well as post-flood recovery in Baton Rouge, and the Los Angeles Community Disaster Resilience Initiative.
Dr. Wells is an elected member of the National Academy of Medicine. He was the first recipient of the Young Investigator Award and received the Distinguished Investigator Award of AcademyHealth. He received the Senior Health Services Research Award and Research Prize for lifetime achievement in research of the American Psychiatric Association. He also received the 2017 Carl Taube Award from the Mental Health Secion of the American Public Health Association, the 2018 Rhoda and Bernard Sarnat International Prize in Mental Health from the National Academy of Medicine. A pioneer in applying Community-Partnered Participatory Research to behavioral health, Dr. Wells with community partner the late Loretta Jones, were Team Leaders on behalf of the Community Partners in Care Council for the 2014 Team Science Award of the Association of Clinical and Translational Science, the 2015 Campus-Community Partnerships for Health Annual Award, and the 2015 UCLA Landmark Community Program of the Year Award. He also won the 2019 Psychiatric and Research Foundation Advocate Award, UCSF Innovator Award, and UCLA Department of Psychiatry’s Lifetime Teaching Award.
Dr. Wells co-founded the Media and Medicine for Communities (MMC) and later Healing and Education through the Arts (HEArts) program at the Semel Institute, which seeks to engage diverse communities in addressing mental health stigma through media and the arts. An active choral director and composer, his first opera, “The First Lady,” on dealing with complicated grief was produced at UCLA in 2010. His second opera, “The Center Cannot Hold” on recovery from schizophrenia based on the life of Elyn Saks with Dr. Saks as co-librettist, was produced at UCLA in 2016 and is streamed through National Mental Health America. He is PI of a California Arts Commission grant for Veterans in the Arts, for production with Veteran involvement in his third opera, “Veteran Journeys.”
Dr. Wells, a psychiatrist and health services researcher, began his career by leading the mental health component of the RAND Health Insurance Experiment, to determine how variations in the organization and financing of health services delivery systems affected the use and costs of mental health services and mental health outcomes of children and adults. He then led efforts to understand the impact of depression on daily functioning and to describe the quality and outcomes of care for depression, including ethnic, racial and gender-related disparities in access and outcomes, in different healthcare delivery studies, through the Medical Outcomes Study, Prospective Payment Quality of Care Study, Preferred Provider Organization Study and other efforts. Dr. Wells followed up on these findings in Partners in Care, a national study of implementing quality improvement programs compared to enhanced usual care for depressed primary care patients. This study showed that such efforts can improve quality of care and health status and employment outcomes over two years and reduce disparities in depression outcomes over 5-10 years. Broader patterns of disparities in mental health care were profiled through Healthcare for Communities, a mental supplement to the Community Tracking Study.
In response to evidence from these prior studies that substantial disparities in quality and outcomes of care exist and that system interventions can help reduce such disparities, Dr. Wells collaborated in applying Community-Partnered Participatory Research, an approach to support equal partnership in all aspects of research with community stakeholders, to address disparities in outcomes for depression. This work led to Witness for Wellness and the NIMH Community Partners in Care study, with long-term follow-up through funding by NIMHD and PCORI as noted above. In addition, Dr. Wells was PI of a PCORI Patient-Powered Research Network, the Community and Patient Participatory Research Network (CPPRN), with Centers of Excellence in Los Angeles and New Orleans. This integrated work from Community Partners in Care and the post-Katrina New Orleans REACH-NOLA and Mental Health Infrastructure and Training (MHIT) projects under Dr. Benjamin Springgate. This integration led to other collaborative efforts, including the Resilience against Depression Disparities (RADD) trial (Chung, PI) and Community Learning and Resilience Network (CLEARN) (Springgate, PI).
Dr. Wells is actively involved in training clinicians in health services research and principles of community engagement. He is Associate Director of the National Clinician Scholars Program at UCLA for community partnered work, and teaches with academic and community partners a two-semester course in community engagement in health services research.