Last week, our CEO Ken Thakkar was awarded the prestigious Baltimore Business Journal’s 40 Under 40. We hope you enjoy learning about his story (and Maryland Wellness’, too!)
Keyur “Ken” Thakkar has always felt a calling to give back, especially to his Baltimore area where he lives and works. His motto, “Do the right thing,” has always provided him a strong moral compass which leads his every decision. This is deep rooted in his core values of hard work, family, community and hope, which were instilled in him as a child even before he emigrated from India when he was 7.
Now as CEO of Maryland Wellness, an outpatient mental health agency, his values drive everything from quality and compassionate care to bringing out the best in each of his 100+ team members.
Ken has grown Maryland Wellness since 2017, providing free or reduced cost therapy, psychiatry, addictions counseling and Psychiatric Rehabilitation Program (PRP)/life skills support to Maryland’s significantly at-risk individuals who are battling some of the complex mental health conditions. To ensure life-saving support, Ken implemented a model to assist clients in obtaining more than “just” mental health care. As each client travels through their mental health journey, they can also be assisted by a case manager who can help overcome obstacles or achieve life goals, some of which might otherwise derail the critical mental health process.
Some additional services that are provided free to eligible clients include: connections and integration with primary medical/dental care; social service benefits and entitlements; housing resources; necessities like food, hygiene and clothing; vocational training; GEDs, resume writing, and jobs counseling, including securing dignified jobs; expungement services; family reunification; social/organizational/communication skills and more. Ken also innovated to overcome transportation barriers by providing clients with monthly MTA passes to attend appointments, work and other obligations, and implemented mobile medication delivery even for homeless clients.
“When I first started at Maryland Wellness,” said K.S., a client in Baltimore. “I was afraid to talk but once they started telling me about this program, I started to open up more. They taught me that I am important; it’s about me today. They have taught me to forget about the past and focus on my goals – my GED, nursing, helping the homeless, volunteering, etc. This is the most amazing, awesome program in Baltimore, and that’s from my heart. The staff is wonderful, amazing, beautiful, unique and have hearts of gold.”
Recognizing every community has a need regardless of race, religion, gender, age and socioeconomic status, Ken grew the agency from one location in Baltimore to six in locations in places like Cumberland, Lanham and Waldorf to offer mental and life skills services across the entire state. This has been enhanced through key partnerships with hospitals, schools, the faith community and critical community resource providers.
Ken’s team has helped thousands of Marylanders learn to manage their mental health disorders – all while achieving important life goals. Without Maryland Wellness’ unique and valuable resources, obstacles might’ve prevented mental health care at a time when the need is growing exponentially. A recent study from CNN showed that 90% of U.S. adults say the United States is experiencing a mental health crisis.
In 2021, Ken was invited to join the Board of NAMI Metropolitan Baltimore to further help the community and break down stigmas associated with mental health care. According to NAMI, 15 years ago, a U.S. Surgeon General’s Report on Mental Health – the first and only one to date – identified stigma as a public health concern that leads people to “avoid living, socializing or working with, renting to, or employing” individuals with mental illness. Ken has also advocated directly via NAMI to Maryland senators and delegates about critical mental health legislation.
Ken has a broad range of experience, working with small businesses to large scale corporations, that directly translated to building Maryland Wellness into what it is today. He managed international development and social reform, including economic development, health sector reform, alternative energy and work in the agriculture/non-agriculture sectors, in Africa and Central and Eastern Europe/Asia for companies like BearingPoint and Deloitte.
Leveraging this solution-oriented approach, Maryland Wellness is a model and trailblazer for the mental health industry. Ken ensures Maryland Wellness’ primary goal of providing preventive mental health care to individuals who might otherwise slip through the cracks by keeping them alive, out of the ER and from becoming incarcerated. Ultimately, this innovative model reduces healthcare costs and saves tax dollars, while ensuring physical and mental health are treated comprehensively. His use of technology, including sophisticated EMR and people management tools, does this efficiently, creatively and with the most impact.
“Ken understands that one of the most important things that we do in our lifetime is ‘what we do for others,’” said Sharon Wilson, a Rehabilitation Counselor/Case Manager at Maryland Wellness. “He has planted seeds of hope, kindness, love, diversity and a multiplicity of service to so many. There is an incredible law of nature that states: the things that we plant will eventually produce a harvest – or the kingdom principle: the things that we sew, we will reap. Now is your season Ken, to reap as it all comes back to you in abundance. Thank you for your selfless service.”