May 28, 2023

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Bert Nash Leadership

The upcoming change in leadership at the Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center is an ideal time to point out the importance of this facility in providing excellent mental health services to Lawrence and Douglas County residents and improving the quality of life in Lawrence and Douglas County.

David Johnson will be stepping aside in July after 16 years of excellent leadership of Bert Nash. His successor, Patrick Schmitz, is coming to Lawrence after resigning his position as Chief Executive Officer of Plains Area Mental Health Center, an 11-county area in Northwest Iowa.

The Bert Nash Mental Health Center was started in 1950 and over the years has grown in importance and excellence in the numbers of people it serves.

For one reason or another “mental illness” is a growing illness in this nation, an illness that touches the lives of millions upon millions. It’s also an illness that can be treated AND….recovery is always possible.

Nationally suicide numbers are up and suicide among middle-age men is up 43 per cent. Recent reports note a shockingly high percentage of high school students have tried to commit suicide.

Lawrence residents have every reason to be proud of their community and its various assets but unfortunately Bert Nash doesn’t seem to attract the attention it deserves. It enjoys a sterling record but not enough people know enough about it.

Johnson and his associates have done a masterful job in building Bert Nash into one of Kansas’ outstanding mental health facilities. It attracts national attention for its innovation and leadership in many efforts to inform and train residents in helping to build a healthy community. In fact, Bert Nash associates and Johnson were the first 14 individuals in the United States to be certified and trained in Mental Health First Aid.

Revenues at Bert Nash have doubled under Johnson’s leadership and the numbers of those seeking services have “sky rocketed” over the past 8 to 10 years. Last year, 5,070 people were served at Bert Nash with 1,884 new admissions….52 per cent female and 48 per cent male.

Of those served last year 3,414 were adults and 1,656 were children. It’s interesting to note 33 per cent of these individuals were 18 or younger.

There are various reasons for greater public awareness of mental illness and its likely there are more individuals today who suffer from mental illness. However, it’s also a fact “X” number of years ago “mental illness” carried with it a bad or embarrassing stigma with parents and relatives of those with mental illness challenges often sheltering their relatives in basements or attics, not wanting neighbors or others to know a family member had a “mental problem.”

Today this stigma still exists to some degree but not to the level of past years. Through the efforts of Johnson and others like him throughout the country at mental health clinics, and the pioneering work of the Menningers of Topeka, mental illness is indeed looked upon merely as another illness such as measles, high blood pressure, diabetes and/or heart disease.

Alcohol, drugs and post-traumatic stress disorders may be playing a greater role today in triggering mental illness but at the end of World War I cases of veterans suffering from “shell shock” and the effects of the great depression and lack of jobs presented a similar stressful environment.

Mental illness is a serious and costly disease and Lawrence is fortunate to have had Johnson working to improve the excellence of Bert Nash and to elevate the public’s awareness of the need to become acquainted with the symptoms of mental illness.

Within a short time Patrick Schmitz will be moving to Lawrence and on June 16 he will be introduced to Lawrence at a public gathering at the Lied Center. Johnson will assist in the transition and plans on leaving Bert Nash in July.

It is unfortunate development of a badly needed crisis center has not advanced further but Johnson has been a strong and active proponent of this facility. This should be a top priority of Schmitz, city and law enforcement officials and Lawrence Memorial Hospital officers.

There is every reason to anticipate Bert Nash will continue to grow in excellence, serving increasing numbers of individuals and gaining and meriting the appreciation, respect and support of the public.

City and Douglas County residents should extend their enthusiastic and sincere appreciation and thanks for all Johnson has done in his 16 years of leadership.