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2010 Behavioral Health Champion: Franklin D. Lisnow

July 1, 2010
by root
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“When I retire, I'll know that I did what my parents asked of me: I gave back.”

Position: Executive Director

Organization: Center for Dependency, Addiction, and Rehabilitation (CeDAR) at the University of Colorado Hospital

Location: Aurora, Colo.

Services: Comprehensive diagnostic assessment and treatment services to help individuals and their families overcome addiction and co-occurring disorders, including residential treatment, extended care programs, family programs, and alumni and aftercare support groups

Staff: 50

Raised in Brooklyn by parents who “always saw people for what they were,” Frank Lisnow had three gifts that would shape his life: A desire to “give back,” an ability to see the best in people, and a pragmatic, street-wise approach to solving problems.

After earning a business degree, Frank quickly found that work as an industrial engineer “didn't seem to fit.” With his wife, he moved to Vermont, taking a job at a men's correctional center in St. Johnsbury. Despite a lack of formal training, he got a job protecting and counseling these troubled individuals “because I was a big guy.” Before long, “A light went off. This is what I want to do,” he recalls. “I want to work with people who are in trouble.” After seeing the impact of drugs and alcohol, “by far the largest source of problems for the men at the correctional center,” Frank sought a job in community drug and alcohol counseling 18 months later. Again, despite a lack of formal training, he fit in easily at Northeast Kingdom Mental Health, impressing director Vernon Barry with his street skills. “I grew up on the streets of Brooklyn,” he says. “I understood the street and understood people who had those types of problems.” Looking back, he acknowledges, “I couldn't get a job today with what I had then.” But it didn't matter. “[Barry] saw something in me that he was willing to take a risk on. He taught me the ropes.” Inspired by Barry's confidence and his own passion for the field, Frank completed formal professional training, earning MEd and MAC degrees. His 16 years with Barry—from 1972 to 1988—not only taught him management skills, but an eclectic, consumer-focused approach to mental health and chemical dependency treatment. Frank sees it as a combination of recovery and mental-health approaches (12 Step, pharmacology, behavioral therapies, and more) tuned to an individual's needs. He continues to practice this “person first” approach today. Noting that 12-Step fellowship is vital, for example, Frank suggests that an anxious person needs other tools-perhaps medication and behavioral approaches-to make that fellowship successful. “Let's put the best of both worlds-recovery and behavioral health-together,” he asserts. At Northeast, Frank became active in NAADAC, ultimately serving as its president from 1986 to 1988. At the time, he got to know Dave Lombard, a NAADAC board member associated with Clearbrook, a 100-bed chemical dependency center in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. Lombard brought him to Clearbrook, where, in 16 years, Frank learned “how to run a business, when you've got to make money to pay salaries, meet expenses, and continue the mission of the organization—which is to help people.” He observes that “too many non-profits run like non-profits and wonder why they've gone out of business,” adding, “Compassion and good business are not incompatible.” Frank made what he calls his “final” move to the Center for Dependency, Addiction, and Rehabilitation (CeDAR) in 2005. Created by the University of Colorado Hospital, CeDAR gave Frank “the chance to practice what I thought was quality behavioral health treatment in a quality chemical dependency center. It's a place where people can get everything they need to turn their lives around.” Since his arrival, CeDAR has aspired to be a top treatment center for chemical dependency and co-occurring disorders. “We can deal with more difficult patients-patients that not every facility can handle.” Calling CeDAR his “swan song,” Frank reflects, “This was an opportunity to leave my mark. When I retire, I'll know that I did what my parents asked of me: I gave back.”

Photo by Don Weule

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