- Clinical Director of the Louisville Center for Eating Disorders, where she treats clients, and supervises and trains other clinicians and students in evidence-based treatments for eating disorders, as well as advocates for greater awareness of and access to treatment for eating disorders in the state of Kentucky.
- Involved in the Academy for Eating Disorders Advocacy Committee and the National Eating Disorder Awareness Foundation.
- Works with Project Heal, a nonprofit foundation, which provides treatment grants to individuals with ED who cannot afford treatment and provides a mentoring service to help individuals with ED as they transition out of residential care.
- Mother of two young girls: Sofia (three) and Sloane (six months). Enjoys spending time with family, practicing yoga, hiking and traveling.
- 2019 Centerstone Healthcare Advocacy MediStar Nominee
Medical News: Describe your advocacy efforts and the community you serve.
Cheri Levinson: Since moving home to Louisville in 2016, I have been working to: a) increase awareness of eating disorders (ED) in our community, b) increase access to care for ED and c) increase education and training for healthcare providers on the recognition and treatment of ED.
When I returned to Louisville there were no ED treatment facilities in the state. I started both the Louisville Center for Eating Disorders, which is a multidisciplinary treatment center for ED and an ED specialty team at the UofL Psychological Services Center, which provides low cost care options.
I have trained hundreds of students, therapists, dietitians and medical providers to treat and recognize ED. I started an ED prevention program on UL campus and assisted with the start of this prevention program at local high schools. I have also worked to educate Congress and state officials on the cost and impairment associated with ED.
MN: Give one example of results you have seen through your efforts.
CL: Last year working with a mother of a child with an ED, we were able to work with Congress to recognize Eating Disorder Awareness Week as an official week in the state of Kentucky. This shows the seriousness of the disease, brings awareness to the problem and starts a discussion with state officials on what we can do as a state to prevent and treat this illness.
We have a meeting scheduled in November to present our data from a statewide epidemiological data set that shows rates of ED in adolescents in Kentucky that are higher than the national average.
MN: Out of all the things people advocate for, why is this so important?
CL: ED impact 10 percent of the population, which translates to 446,800 individuals in Kentucky that are affected and 100,000 individuals in Louisville. Of people with an ED, only 20 percent can access care, even though untreated ED often leads to death and if not death, extreme impairment.
ED are the deadliest of any mental illness, carrying one of the highest mortality rates, only second to opioid use disorders. While ED effect people of all ages, ethnicities and sexes, they generally develop in adolescence, meaning many people we treat are young (12–14-year-old) women, and often these illnesses become chronic.
ED are a silent epidemic that are affecting our youth and costing our society millions of dollars, yet little time or money is devoted to prevention, treatment and research to improve treatments.
MN: Looking back on the past year, how has the healthcare system changed and what is the medical community doing to adapt?
CL: I am not sure that the healthcare system has changed much in the past year, which is an issue. We need a healthcare system that is not based on corporate profit and instead is accessible to all individuals regardless of race, socioeconomic status, sexual preference etc. I see daily the struggle for my patients to be able to receive or continue to receive care because of the systemic issues with healthcare and insurance in our country.
For example, I have had countless patients with eating disorders who are no longer covered by insurance because their insurance companies deem them “well enough” despite a medical team of experts trained in eating disorders stating that the patient is not well and is still in need of care.
Unsurprisingly these patients relapse and need to be re-admitted. Essentially, they are caught in a system that cares more about profiting than in helping humans ease their suffering. This system needs to be reworked such that medical decisions are put back into doctors’ hands (not insurance companies).
MN: What is the biggest challenge your organization will face in the upcoming year?
CL: In the state of Kentucky there is currently no partial hospital program, residential or inpatient level of care for patients with eating disorders (the Louisville Center for Eating Disorders is the only outpatient and intensive outpatient specialty clinic in the state).
Additionally, there is no program in the United States that accepts Kentucky Medicaid for a higher level of care (we accept Passport for intensive outpatient programming).
Our goal for the Louisville Center for Eating Disorders is to work toward closing that treatment gap by opening a partial hospital program by the end of 2020. We are currently in the process of obtaining credentialing and licensure for our program, which is an extremely large amount of work, but will ultimately benefit the community and state. We believe that the creation of a partial hospital program in Louisville will help patients access care for eating disorders that would otherwise be unattainable.