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In August, colleagues and friends gathered at McLean Hospital to celebrate the career of Charles Welch, MD. A leader in the field of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) and a long-standing advocate for expanding and improving mental health services, Welch retired from his position as a physician at McLean’s Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) Service.
Remarking on his time at McLean, Welch said, “Since my first day, it’s been the most wonderful time of my career. There’s a culture of collegiality at McLean, an intuitive sense of teamwork that I haven’t seen anywhere else.” It is this spirit of support, he said, “that enables McLean to provide the best care of any institution in the country.”
Welch’s praise for McLean is matched by his colleagues’ praise for him. According to Paula Bolton, MS, APRN-BC, program director for McLean’s Psychiatric Neurotherapeutics Program, “Dr. Welch is the ultimate team player. He’s a humble guy, and he’s willing to do whatever it takes to help his patients. He’ll be missed.”
Welch joined McLean’s ECT Service in 2013. From 1976 to 2013, he ran the ECT program at Massachusetts General Hospital. Throughout his career, he was a tireless advocate for patients receiving ECT treatment and did much to battle the stigma associated with ECT. He made public appearances with Kitty Dukakis, an ECT patient and the wife of former Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis, and he presented his views on ECT in many local and national news outlets.
“When I started doing this work 40 years ago,” Welch said, “ECT was the poor stepchild of psychiatry, but we’ve gone 180 degrees since then.” Today, Welch reported, ECT is one of the “pillars of psychiatric care.” He praised McLean for its “enormous commitment to providing good facilities and good professional staff for its ECT service,” which has allowed many patients to benefit from the treatment.
“Dr. Welch is a pioneer in the world of ECT,” Bolton said. “I think he’ll be remembered for his work to destigmatize ECT and give patients hope.”
In addition to his work on ECT, Welch worked for over 20 years on prevention of child abuse in Massachusetts, and in 1998, he was a leader of the Massachusetts Governor’s Commission on Child Abuse. In 2000, he collaborated closely with Senator Ted Kennedy to write the first medical privacy rule ever enacted in the United States, now known as HIPAA. In 2001, he led the design and construction of the new headquarters of the Massachusetts Medical Society in Waltham, and he served as president of the Medical Society in 2002. He is the only psychiatrist to have served in that leadership role. For the past 15 years, he has served as president of the Massachusetts Medical Benevolent Society, an independent organization that provides financial support and counseling to physicians in personal, professional, or financial distress.
In his retirement, Welch plans to continue to speak out and educate the public about the importance of psychiatric care. “Since I started working in the field, we’ve come light years in public awareness of psychiatry, but we still have a long way to go to get mental illness out of the shadows,” he said.