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2009 Behavioral Health Champion: Anthony Zipple, ScD, MBA

November 1, 2009
by Dennis Grantham, Senior Editor
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Position: CEO

Organization: Thresholds

Location: Chicago, Illinois (http://www.thresholds.org)

Service Area: Throughout the Chicago, Illinois region

Services: Comprehensive community mental health and psychiatric services, housing, supported employment, forensic ACT, supported education, transitioning youth services, integrated health services, homelessness services, research to develop evidence-based practices.

Staff: 840
In 1979, Tony Zipple graduated from the University of Notre Dame with a masters in environmental design, but never found an urban planning job. Instead, he got involved in transitioning patients from state hospitals to the care of new CMHCs.

“At the time, the concept was radically new,” he recalls. He soon discovered “something extraordinary and deeply rewarding” about working with individuals who had disabling mental illnesses. This interest coalesced at a seminar, “Beyond Institutionalization,” taught by Jerry Dincin, the visionary leader of Chicago's Thresholds. And he was hooked.

Soon, Zipple's professional interests brought him to Boston, where, after earning an ScD in psychiatric rehabilitation and working at the Boston University Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation, Zipple worked 14 years at Vinfen, a prominent Boston-area community service provider. He knew that without good services, life in the community often meant isolation, poverty, homelessness, jail, and living on the margins of society. He was determined to create better options for people with the most severe mental illnesses.“One of the hardest things to learn is that bad things happen to a lot of people. When you have a tough roll of the dice, like a mental illness, you need a lot of help bouncing back, reclaiming your life, and recovering.”

As CEO at Thresholds for the past seven years, Zipple leads the organization as it helps thousands find recovery. With Dartmouth University and other academic institutions, foundations, and community groups, he is leading a push through Thresholds Research Institute to create a national center to advance supported employment.

Zipple believes that the key to recovery is to find a source of genuine, personal happiness. He tells of a middle-aged man with heart disease in Thresholds' wellness management and recovery program. “This man could no longer dance, the thing he loved. But, we got him good medical care and nurtured his sense of hope. As he felt better, he began dancing again. Then he found a girlfriend,” Zipple adds, “and started thinking about work. He's still got problems, but he's living again. He is getting his life back on his terms: a job, a home, friends, family, and a sense of meaning in his life. That is what recovery means.”

Thresholds is working hard to help every member achieve recovery. Its Justice Project has reduced repeat incarcerations and hospitalizations by 85 percent. Its Mothers' Program helps those with serious mental illnesses practice effective parenting. Thresholds' Loren Juhl School helps young people earn high-school diplomas. Its specialized project for people who are deaf and have serious mental illnesses is a national model, while its supported education services help Thresholds members to attend college or even graduate programs. Every day Thresholds' staff help make recovery from mental illness a reality, one life at a time.

Behavioral Healthcare 2009 November-December;29(10):17

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