South Lane Mental Health names new director

South Lane Mental Health has named Damien Sands as its new executive director. Sands will replace Tom Wheeler, who announced his retirement in April of this year after 25 years with the organization. The change is effective January 2. 

“Joining South Lane Mental Health is truly a special opportunity,” Sands said. “I know I have big shoesto fill. But I feel really blessed that I will be working with such an outstanding staff that is truly client centered.And I’m excited to become part of the Cottage Grove community.”

Sands has extensive experience in the health and human services field, serving at local, county, and state levels. Prior to becoming a Southern Willamette Valley program officer for Oregon Community Foundation, Sands was the executive director of the Wellness & Education Board of Central Oregon, overseeing administration of the regional strategic goals and quality improvement measures for behavioral health, public health, and Early Learning Council in the Crook, Deschutes, and Jefferson tri-county area. He was a senior policy analyst for Oregon Health Authority’s Addictions and Mental

Health Division, a public health contract man ager for Lane County Health & Human Services, and a program manager at Looking Glass Community Services. He began his career more than 20 years ago as a caseworker for Janus Youth Programs in Portland, working in a residential setting with youth mandated to care or post-care from all state youth correctional facilities.

To ensure a smooth transition, Wheeler and Sands will be working together through the first part of 2018. Wheeler joined South Lane Mental Health in 1992. At that time, there were five staff and 50 clients. Under Wheeler’s leadership, the agency has grown to 105 employees serving 2,600 individuals and families a year.

“The current healthcare environment requires creativity, innovation, and strong leadership,” said Jim Harrison, South Lane Mental Health’s Board Chair. “We are confident that Damien’s background and experience will help ensure that we can continue to grow and serve the needs of our clients and our community well into the future.”

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