South Lane Mental Health Executive Director retires

© 2018-Cottage Grove Sentinel

South Lane Mental Health announced on Monday, April 17 that executive director Tom Wheeler would be stepping down a year from now.

"Tom is a visionary and a trailblazer and will be difficult to replace,” said Dr. Jim Harrison, Board Chair. “We are thankful for his many years of incredible leadership, nurturing and growing this organization to better help residents of our community," a press release on the retirement said.

The Board of Directors has created a transition committee that will launch a nationwide search for Wheeler’s successor. A new leader will be named later this year.

“Because of Tom’s leadership, South Lane Mental Health has become a pivotal force both in Cottage Grove and in broader Lane County,” said Noreen Dunnells, President and CEO of United Way of Lane County. “I’ve always been impressed with Tom’s commitment to those in our community who are struggling. This is manifested in his enthusiastic involvement in initiatives like the Community Health Improvement Plan and Be Your Best Cottage Grove, as well as in making sure that local residents have timely access to mental health services.”

South Lane Mental Health had a staff of five and served about 50 adults per year when Wheeler became its first executive director two and a half decades ago. Under his guidance, South Lane Mental Health secured state grants to build housing for adults with severe mental illness (1993); hired the first medically qualified individual in South Lane County with a specialty in managing psychiatric medications (1994); and became a contractor to provide mental health services to individuals on the Oregon Health Plan (1997). In 2008, South Lane Mental Health partnered with the City of Cottage Grove to win a Community Development Block Grant, which enabled the agency to buy and renovate its current 9,000-square-foot offices on Birch Avenue and expand programs and services.

Today, South Lane Mental Health employs more than 90 staf fwho provide an array of outpatient mental health services for more than 2,600 children and adults a year through programs for families, children, and adults — those with persistent mental illness as well as those who just need someone to talk to. South Lane Mental Health was established in 1988 by a group of First Presbyterian Church parishioners committed to ensuring local availability of services for residents with mental health challenges. The organization’s mission is to restore hope and renew lives through compassionate mental health services, support, and advocacy. A guiding principal is to ensure mental health services to anyone who asks for help, regardless of their insurance or financial status.

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