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Therapists to lose home at landmark Mental Research Institute

Original post made on Feb 9, 2019

Tension is building between therapists and the board of directors at a world-renowned Palo Alto mental health research institution.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Saturday, February 9, 2019, 9:12 AM

Comments (39)

9 people like this
Posted by Jane Gill
a resident of Menlo Park
on Feb 9, 2019 at 11:26 am

MRI cofounder Paul Watzlawick was an amazing thinker. Check out his book “How Real Is Real?” Written in the mid 1970s, this book still has valuable lessons for us today — especially in how to reframe problems and find alternative solutions.

1 person likes this
Posted by wotta great guy back in the day
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Feb 9, 2019 at 12:41 pm

How come ol' Ben isn't listed on the website or history/about section?

20 people like this
Posted by Norman Beamer
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 9, 2019 at 1:07 pm

If the seller or the broker are marketing the property as anything other than residential or continuing the medical grandfathered use they are deceiving potential buyers.

12 people like this
Posted by insurance?
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 9, 2019 at 1:45 pm

Do the therapists accept insurance? (Almost none in Palo Alto do, to the detriment of middle class Palo Alto residents.) Although losing that many therapists would be a loss for Palo Alto, if the therapists do not accept insurance, their affluent clients can undoubtedly find replacements if the therapists cannot find new offices in a nearby community.

29 people like this
Posted by jimfruchterman
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 9, 2019 at 6:04 pm

jimfruchterman is a registered user.

Seems like quite a diversion of charitable assets from one area of activity (promoting mental health in the community) to a different one with much less impact here in the area (Palo Alto, East Palo Alto and the surrounding area). Has the California Attorney General approved this major change? And telling the associated nonprofit groups that actually provide the services to go away seems pretty callous.

17 people like this
Posted by Bernie
a resident of another community
on Feb 10, 2019 at 9:36 am

Very sad to see that in the name of progress, MRI is giving up current ongoing desperately needed community mental health services. Everyone understands the "long game" view, but not at the expense of severely compromising existing activities. Shame on you. MRI should see it as their responsibility to make sure current programming remains in place, and with the sale of the building they have the means to do so. Step up and do the right thing!

27 people like this
Posted by Concerned Citizen
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Feb 10, 2019 at 10:11 am

The work that has been done in the East Palo Alto Community goes beyond any price-tag. We live in an area of such extreme excess and affluence and the answer of so many in this group of affluence is to just throw money at the problems of East Palo Alto. This is not the type of support we need. It's high time we start placing value in mental health services, not just after we read about gun violence and any other traumatic bi-products of a failed mental health state. Here, a group in the community that is providing the services we need and they're folding to become an institution that dolls out money?? We have enough money in the area already! what we don't have are experienced mental health care providers willing to go out and make a difference in our community. This is a sad day for Palo Alto... and what the board of MRI is doing seems criminal.

28 people like this
Posted by Janet Hughes
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Feb 10, 2019 at 10:25 am

Many individuals and families benefit from the MRI and the therapists who rigorously apply well founded ideas locally, world-wide and to diverse clients. I ask: would we want Stanford Clinics, or our Community Clinics to close their doors and the CEO's allocate grants for "breakthrough thinking about how to increase systemic support and understanding of the processes that promote health and positive change in individuals, families and organizations"; would we close and sell schools for Principals to dole out grants to "increase systemic support (etc) for education"? Our Mental Health needs will not be met by a Foundation doling out grants. How can we hold onto this vital mental health resource?

17 people like this
Posted by daniel G
a resident of another community
on Feb 10, 2019 at 11:01 am

It troubles me that the two active arms of the organization that were filling a large gap in services and training will be shutting down. The MRI is making a decision that will have far reaching negative effects. The amount of kids and families that have benefited from FREE counseling through the Brief Therapy Center , would astonish anyone and would make anyone question the ethics of the MRI and their board.

The organization providing grants will divert funds from the people who know best how to continue the MRI mission by providing training, free and low fee services as well as continuing to publicize the empowering approach to mental health.

How in the world are they getting away with cutting off the clinics which do the work in the name of giving funds elsewhere? The funds belong with the people continuing the interpersonally oriented model of therapy- IN OUR COMMUNITIES!!

22 people like this
Posted by Janet Hughes
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Feb 10, 2019 at 11:31 am

Well said Bernie and Daniel G.
Why hold Mental Health needs at arms length; wait for "breakthrough thinking"? We do not do that for a person with cancer, ingrown toenail, or hypertension. Mental health care is given person to person, day by day, in and out of home and work. Therapists, trainers and directors at MRI consistently and diligently care for individuals and families in our communities. Therapists who train at MRI apply the same careful therapy wherever they practice.
The MRI Board is proposing "fiddling while Rome burns": not progress.
The funds belong with the people who do the work to continue the work.

16 people like this
Posted by Beth Wahl
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Feb 10, 2019 at 12:02 pm

I have known Karin Schlanger for many years and supported the Brief Therapy efforts that have made such a difference in the community, particularly in the East Palo Alto school system. These are not mental health professionals for the affluent but a true community resource that serves those who have no other options. It is a terrible shame to shut out this group that has done so much for mental health in the area over so many years. I hope that the community will rally behind Karin Schlanger and her organization to support a much-needed mental health practice.

7 people like this
Posted by Psychology is BS & Not Even a True Science
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 10, 2019 at 12:20 pm

[Post removed.]

31 people like this
Posted by Callous
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Feb 10, 2019 at 2:33 pm

I had a serious bout of depression some years ago and sought counseling and medication instead of killing myself. I had considered it multiple times.

It took a lot of courage, my family doctor said, to come forward and take care of myself. The stigma attached to mental illness still makes it difficult for people to seek help.

The anti-depressants helped, but the real healing came with the multiple paths of therapy I received including at MRI. Each one helped heal a different part of my trauma, which included sexual and physical abuse. It helped me unlearn the patterns stamped on my life by other people's behavior and I was able to create my own patterns that are healthier.

Psychology is not BS. There are good therapists and bad ones, just as in every other profession. Since much of mental illness also can have a biological or chemical underpinning, sometimes medication is needed and can really help. If you have high blood pressure or an ulcer you take medicines for those without thinking of any stigma because society hasn't placed it on those medical conditions.

Mental illness is a medical condition. The therapist who killed himself was a human being trying to help others. It isn't a matter of needing to "get his act together" before treating others. Perhaps he wasn't experiencing a mental illness for much of his career. Maybe he was a good therapist because he understood his patients' pain. It's tragic that he became ill and took his life. Human beings are complex.

Sometimes, too, we have expectations that professionals are supposed to be without our same human frailties. Cops, firefighters, doctors, lawyers and therapists, etc. get into the same difficulties we all do. Some have expectations of themselves also that they aren't supposed to have these problems so they don't seek help. These are hard jobs requiring listening to people's sad stories or dealing with violence or loss of lives. Let's please show some compassion for others regardless of our "expectations."

Thank you, therapists, for being there.

11 people like this
Posted by Gloria, Concerned Citizen
a resident of another community
on Feb 10, 2019 at 2:44 pm

I am impressed by the importance of this tragic announcement to close the MRI. If they aren't managing the funds well enough to maintain the building, perhaps they can sell it and find a new home for the clinics and the other work that they do. It seems the BTC has been fulfilling the needs of the surrounding community in training and services. Perhaps the MRI should guarantee that 20% or more of the profits from the sale of the building can be donated to the BTC and Strategic family therapy clinic. Abandoning a plan that works would be a tragic loss to people in need of their expertise.

21 people like this
Posted by Misla Barco
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Feb 10, 2019 at 3:06 pm

This is a tragedy for East Palo Alto, for 17 years, The Brief Therapy Center has provided FREE mental health services for our teens. These services are highly needed and I don't see any other place where teens could go in the community neither can they afford it! The MRI might want to consider giving a portion of the 12 million dollar to help house the continuation of the Brief Therapy Center. The BTC can't close its doors to the most vulnerable members of the community: Teens.

11 people like this
Posted by Tim Burke
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Feb 10, 2019 at 7:34 pm

I have known Karin for many years and have worked alongside her supporting students and families in East Palo Alto. Through her work at the Brief Therapy Center, Karin not only counseled a variety of problems including depression, eating disorders, suicidal thoughts/actions, runaway children, high school dropouts, among others, BUT she also taught them the skills to confront and resolve problems themselves. Her support to East Palo Alto students and families over the past 15+ years has been invaluable. Please find a way to support this much-needed mental health practice so that countless future families can thrive as a result of her care!

23 people like this
Posted by Julie
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 10, 2019 at 9:56 pm

We need more mental health services in our community, not fewer.

15 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 11, 2019 at 11:59 am

This appears to be a terrible, misguided decision. MRI is a well-known -place- where -people- can go for vitally-needed services. So often, people speculate on discussion boards such as these regarding whey such-and-such a person did not receive mental health care, prior to some public crisis. And yet, this place will no longer be providing these vital services. Why?

14 people like this
Posted by Laura
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 11, 2019 at 1:04 pm

I have also personally benefited from MRI. I received essential therapy there in the early 90's, and again a couple of years ago. My parents saw Dick Fisch, one of the founder/therapists in the early 70's for family therapy.

I think a creative solution can be found if both parties are open-minded.

What can we as community members do to help? To whom can we write a letter?


(By the way, insurance WAS accepted both times I went there.)

Like this comment
Posted by pearl
a resident of another community
on Feb 11, 2019 at 3:22 pm

pearl is a registered user.

@ Jane Gill:

Just checked out “How Real Is Real?” by Paul Watzlawick on Unfortunately they don't provide a "Look Inside" so we can see whether we want to buy the book or not, nor do they offer the book in electronic (e-book) format. Sounds like it might be interesting.


13 people like this
Posted by Tom
a resident of another community
on Feb 12, 2019 at 8:39 am

The Brief Therapy Center has a global reputation and impact. Silicon Valley does NOT need another foundation, it needs people doing the work, and that is exactly what the brief therapy center does. How can the board claim they want to advance mental health through grants and then effectively destroy an organization doing that. If the board does not agree to give at least a portion of the income to the brief therapy center then I can't see how they will have any reputation or mandate going forward. Shame on them.

15 people like this
Posted by Raul Rojas
a resident of Mayfield
on Feb 12, 2019 at 9:30 am

I am in shock to learn about the closing of the Mental Research Institute (MRI), an internationally well-known research institute. The MRI has a long history of providing high-quality psychotherapy services to our community since 1959. From the 1994-97, I had the amazing privilege of being part of the Brief Therapy Center, along with Karin Schlanger, Paul Watzlawick and Richard Fish, and a large group of committed mental health professionals, we provided needed psychotherapy services at low-cost families both in Palo Alto and East Palo Alto.

I am saddened by MRI’s uncertain future and concerned that once again, bright, talented professionals are being forced to move out of our city because of the skyrocketing costs or renting or purchasing property. It is particularly disheartening that this is occurring when we are facing a mental health crisis in our region that necessitates more, not fewer, mental health services for families in Palo Alto.

I hope that our leaders in Palo Alto come together to find a feasible solution that allow to this great, iconic, and internationally well-regarded institution to continue providing such essential services to our community.

22 people like this
Posted by David Winsberg
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Feb 12, 2019 at 2:22 pm

To liquidate the single largest asset and become another virtual foundation rather than a brick and mortar institute is easy for the board. Suddenly the director has a guaranteed salary and no funding problems., It shutters the community clinics, the low cost therapy, the national and international internship programs, and destroys the 80 year accumulated intangible value of the MRI.
Though Trump would say take the money. I say"SAD!"

11 people like this
Posted by concerned
a resident of another community
on Feb 12, 2019 at 3:29 pm

Beyond being one of the most famous training clinics in the world, MRI has had a great local impact because

1) it offers services for the un/under insured and
2) it trains therapists to specialize in the needs of the underserved.

As the article above notes, the board has been choking off money for these services, including proposed service to help East Palo Alto. That's a clue as to how dedicated this board is to actually helping the local community. I feel sorry for the therapists who are losing support for treating poor people, but I feel worse for those in need who have been getting services increasingly denied in recent years and will have them cut off in the near future.

2 people like this
Posted by Wes
a resident of another community
on Feb 12, 2019 at 4:44 pm

I visited from Europe and visited MRI and met the current Director, Sophie Suberville. Let me state some simple truths.

1) Palo Alto has no poor people. MRI has to import them from the other communities! It does not serve Palo Alto.

2) Sophie has very sophisticated plans for online therapy that will help millions. I know some of her colleagues from her corporate life in France, and they say she is wonderful and can bring her ideas to completion.

Who benefits more, a few people that must enter from other communities or millions that will be helped through her foundation!

12 people like this
Posted by Trained there
a resident of another community
on Feb 12, 2019 at 5:06 pm

I would just like to say that I very much appreciated my time at MRI as a trainee psychotherapist. I treated several who had attempted suicide before being referred. The therapy was better than one can get at most clinics in my country.

I had to study ethics of therapy. I think people mentioned in the article like Maryanne are violating professional ethics with their board activities, as they are doing the things they have to do to make their nonprofit thrive, as indicated by their not funding the mission and kicking out therapists. Perhaps visiting an ethics board would get them rededicated to MRI's mission, or at least see that they don't profit from MRI's sale. Wouldn't it be a problem if they intend to get big salaries from this new foundation?

10 people like this
Posted by Donna
a resident of Atherton
on Feb 13, 2019 at 1:33 pm

Hey Wes,

What you said about no poor people is simply not attending to the fact that this article is commenting on the greater Palo Alto world. Not just the affluent areas- there are also needs for systemic oriented therapy for the wealthy which is sparse .

Second, you voiced your approval of “Sophie’s foundation”. See that is part of the problem, Sophie is furthering her personal mission at the expense of a much grander view. As you said, she is European and invested in a corporate life in France. While
This may benefit her beliefs/ values and a corporate view of “necessity”. From what David said and what other LOCAL people suggest, she is operating against the core values of an institution that goes far beyond what she can see and her personal gains. sure , she will gain privelage to control money that she has had a short relationship with compared to the clinics and the communities they serve.

Thank you for painting the picture of the “business” diversion of assets to Sophie’s foundation.

12 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 13, 2019 at 5:29 pm

I think a follow-up article is in order. This issue is a bigger deal that it might appear. Closing MRI will force therapists who work from there to relocate to other, very expensive offices, or move out of the community altogether. And, contrary to what someone posted above, there are plenty of people in Palo Alto at all income levels who need therapy. Many are probably going to be driving to San Jose for their services -- if that is an option.

How did Executive Director Sophie Suberville get control of the MRI board of directors, and, is there anything that can be done at this point? Probably not...

I think we all would like to understand more in the paragraph about the sale:

>> MRI is selling its building through commercial real estate brokers Marcus and Millichap, The approximately 8,222-square-foot building [...] 0.36 acres, [...] property is being marketed for RM-30, medium-density multifamily housing, or for a possible investment as office rental space,

How is this property zoned today? Can health-services-related buildings just be re-purposed as "office rental space"-- the last thing that Palo Alto needs is more engineers/programmers commuting to the office from outer Contra Costa County.

29 people like this
Posted by Joan Weakland
a resident of Esther Clark Park
on Feb 14, 2019 at 7:53 am

I feel sure that my father, John H. Weakland, a pioneer in modern psychology and the development of family therapy and brief therapy, is roiling in his grave with the news that his lifelong place of work, the MRI, plans to sell its building to fund a grant-giving foundation, and will cease to exist as a center of psychology research and practice. I'm fairly sure that his longtime colleagues, Paul Watzlawick and Dick Fisch, the other founders of the Brief Therapy Center, would feel the same.

Their legacy was an institute with an international reach and reputation. I remember my father working with visiting therapists from Turkey, Italy, Japan, South America, Mexico, and many more.

What greatly concerns me is that the article reviews the decline in revenues of the MRI for the past several years, yet that time frame is just parallel to the tenure of the current executive director. Ms. Suberville came on board in January 2016 and developed the plan to utterly change the MRI by selling its sole financial asset, to become the head of a new grant-giving foundation. Ms. Suberville describes herself on her LinkedIn web page as a “social entrepreneur” and her background prior to managing the MRI was as the executive director of the French-American Cultural Society. It is hard to believe that she knows enough about the field of psychology to make these significant changes or head up the new foundation in the spirit of MRI’s historic past.

I remember well that management of the MRI was always the weakest link in my father’s mind, but to so utterly change an institution and reduce it to a business entity that doles out its invested capital truly appalls me.

Karin Schlanger, a former student and friend of both my father and Dick Fisch since the late ’80’s or early 90’s, has dedicated her life’s work to the Brief Therapy Center. She and the Brief Therapy Center will be displaced from the sale of the Institute’s building. As one of the fundamental legacies of the MRI and its core therapists, the continuation of the Brief Therapy Center should be a primary concern, and should be VERY WELL CARED FOR by this “new MRI”. If not, Ms. Suberville’s vision is truly faulty.

12 people like this
Posted by zoning
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Feb 14, 2019 at 2:07 pm

zoning is a registered user.

"property is being marketed for RM-30, medium-density multifamily housing, or for a possible investment as office rental space, As mentioned earlier"

It is likely that the way this property is zoned may exclude non-health related services. The therapists who work there might do well to look into the zoning, and if this is the case bring it to the attention of the board.

2 people like this
Posted by rsmithjr
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 14, 2019 at 3:02 pm

rsmithjr is a registered user.

It is interesting how many people here feel that they understand how the foundation can make an impact better than the folks who run the foundation.

It certainly creates a hole in our local mental health infrastructure. But it is also possible that the foundation has a better plan for using their limited resources for their ultimate goals. I can make the case either way (just as an exercise in rhetoric), but I really am not an expert.

We have to respect the folks who control resources and are responsible for the results (in this case, to their funding agents) to know what they are doing.

12 people like this
Posted by Janet Hughes
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Feb 14, 2019 at 9:28 pm

I live in Palo Alto. I am a Nurse Practitioner. I worked at MayView Community Health Clinic in Palo Alto, Mountain View and Sunnyvale and now I work at Indian Health Clinics in San Jose.
I lived in other countries before immigrating to the USA.
I do not live a "corporate life" and I am worried by the comments made by Wes, in this forum.

1) There are poor people in Palo Alto. I know them. Individuals and families who I respect. People who are in our midst and not imported. Maybe invisible to some of us.

2) Sophisticated plans sound good. But think: would we close Stanford clinics and hand over to a foundation to treat "millions"? Would we close community clinics and care for "millions" of clients at a distance, on-line? Why single out mental health care and therapy to be delivered on-line to "millions"?

3) I ask Ms.Suberville and the MRI Board, and all of us in our community and beyond to think about how we would like to receive our health care - including our mental health care. I mostly want person to person care with the option for some services on-line or from a distance. And I doubt that I am one in a million.

4) I ask the MRI Board to support person-to-person; person-to-family therapy in our community; to sustain research and to train therapists here and abroad; to uphold the renowned reputation and the mission of the MRI. Apply to foundations or corporations for funds for this work.


3 people like this
Posted by Ali D
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 15, 2019 at 2:29 pm

As a psychology major and strong advocate for the Brief Therapy Center, I think MRI should consider giving a portion - such as 20% - to help house the continuation of the Brief Therapy Center. With so many social and economic pressures facing our community, this is an easy solution with wide-ranging and powerful benefits.

Like this comment
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 15, 2019 at 3:39 pm

What is happening to MRI is a shame, but, unfortunately, there is no legal remedy that I know of.

9 people like this
Posted by Tessa Moore
a resident of South of Midtown
on Feb 16, 2019 at 12:08 pm

MRI and the Brief Therapy and Family Centers are gems in the Palo Alto Community. Besides being world-renowned they provide much needed low cost, and free, services to countless people in Palo Alto and the surrounding communities. I hope Palo Alto leaders do everything in their power to see that the mission and day-to-day workings of these institutions survive.

2 people like this
Posted by Do It Online
a resident of Community Center
on Feb 16, 2019 at 1:23 pm

Would it be possible to conduct mental health assistance & therapy online?

Everything seems available on the internet now + there's always the telephone.

This would cut down on overhead expenses and require less office space.

Besides, nearly everyone has a smartphone with internet access.

The personal approach is highly over-rated. Sometimes a straight, no nonsense answer is more effective.

7 people like this
Posted by Carolyn
a resident of Mountain View
on Feb 17, 2019 at 3:35 pm

I am disappointed to learn that MRI and the Brief Therapy Center will be loosing their home after decades of serving the greater Palo Alto community.
As we have learned from other reporting, there is a dangerous scarcity of mental health services in our area , especially for those with limited income and those for whom English is not their first language. MRI has provided quality care for our diverse community.
We also know that it is becoming almost impossible for NGO's and therapist to find office space that they can afford.
Given these problems , any time a service site is closed, our community suffers. MRI's closure is no exception.

3 people like this
Posted by PST
a resident of South of Midtown
on Feb 19, 2019 at 3:41 pm

PST is a registered user.

I have worked for, consulted with and served on nonprofit Boards for many years. Sadly even when you have good people with good intentions it is not uncommon for poor decisions to get made. Understandably Board members have limited time to give and do not necessarily possess the complex skill sets necessary in the changing healthcare climate to actively support and represent an organization while assuring the mission is implemented.

It appears the MRI Board hired someone to lead the organization two years ago that has failed in virtually every aspect of the job description. It is essential to engage in and periodically review strategic plans as they have rightfully done. The best strategic plans are transparent and include major stakeholders. All points of view are respected and considered. Unfortunately this does not describe the process that happened at MRI. Former board members, key community stakeholders and current involved staff were barely considered. I hate to think how much money has been spent on consultants and lawyers that could have been spent helping people. Their effort included too few and has resulted in creating a new charitable trust yet to be mapped out that will have expenses, require a Board and staff and actually give away very little of the funds gained from the sale of the building.

Transparent? Not so much. It seems the press releases and more public disclosure only began after an inquiry from the Palo Alto Weekly. I

Inclusive? Not so much. Who did they include? Not enough points of view or they likely would not have landed on this decision. The fact they refused to even meet to discuss their plans with a credible local nonprofit that was considering continuing the MRI mission and purpose seems especially faulty. The current Brief Therapy and Family Therapy training and service activities have been evicted with no guarantee of immediate unconditional financial support. The Executive Director that was ineffectual will lead the new organization. This does not seem to honor and help continue the MRI mission at all to me.

So what can be done? I repsectfully suggest the current Board put the building sale on hold and initiate an immediate, transparent and inclusive process in order to determine how best to continue the world famous offerngs of MRI going forward. All voices should be heard and respected. It may be that after a better process they will reach the same conclusions. While I doubt it, at least all will know it has been a comprehensive and fair process.

The good news is that it is not too late for the current Board members to make a better effort to fulfill their duties. I hope they will do just that.

1 person likes this
Posted by Janet Hughes
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Feb 19, 2019 at 4:26 pm

I am responding to "Do it online":

Yes, it is possible to find an answer to a "straightforward, no nonsense" health care question on a smartphone with internet access. It is equally possible to be gravely misinformed by this method. There is also the matter of health literacy.
The answers we can trust on-line, are there because of the day to day, generation by generation, work of therapists, professionals, and the people they treat and who live with ill-health.

Yes, we do and we must harness the internet to augment the giving and taking of health care, but that cannot replace a spectrum of human to human services.

MRI and the Brief Therapy and Family Centers are vital mental health resources.
We need them to be a "live" example of what it really takes to practice, research, and teach the art and science of therapy.
Just as we need institutions like Stanford Medical Center, Community Clinics, Mayo Clinic running day by day.

Please do not reduce mental health care or any medical care to getting answers to questions by clicking a smartphone, especially as that is not an option for so many.
Clicks on a smartphone will not cure or take care of the full spectrum of our illness - neither personal nor societal.

And can someone please tell me:
When is the next MRI Board Meeting and is it open to everyone?

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