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Committed to helping others

May 1, 2009
by Brian Albright
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Shannon Harvey has served as a teacher, project manager and, now, CEO
Shannon harvey, lcsw
Shannon Harvey, LCSW. Photographer:Ken Krakow

The new CEO of River Edge Behavioral Health Center in Macon, Georgia, took a somewhat circuitous route through the behavioral healthcare field on her way to her new position.

“I'm a teacher by training,” says Shannon Harvey, LCSW, who succeeded retiring CEO Frank Fields in January. “I found myself spending more time on the things that were impeding children's learning, and that led me to volunteer work in the social services sector.”

Harvey first was called to service in the field when she volunteered at a rape crisis center nearly 25 years ago. She eventually earned a master's degree in social work from the University of Georgia and became a certified addiction counselor and certified clinical supervisor. She worked as a youth counselor and program manager at Parkside Lodge, formerly an adolescent addiction treatment center, where she first met Fields. She later held a management position at McIntosh Trail Community Service Board.

Fields was partially responsible for bringing Harvey to Community Health Works in 2001. Harvey served as the first CEO of the group, an integrated health network for the uninsured in central Georgia. But the job's obligations took their toll on Harvey, who has three children.

“The program was very successful, and I found myself being a featured national speaker,” she says. “But the schedule was grueling. I thought, ‘I might be getting to the top of the ladder, but it's propped against the wrong building.’”

Harvey left Community Health Works to return to teaching. Then Fields came calling again, asking for her help at River Edge.

River Edge, which has 387 full-time employees and a $23 million annual budget, provides mental health, mental retardation/developmental disability, and substance abuse services in four counties. Harvey initially served as a strategic planner and fund developer, and led a joint effort among 22 area healthcare agencies to improve Medicaid managed care contract language. She later became the project manager for the Peachstate Information Network (PIN), a group formed by River Edge, the Cobb/Douglas Counties Community Services Boards, and Avita Community Partners to achieve common information technology goals. PIN serves 30,000 clients across 23 Georgia counties (See http://behavioral.net/pin0108). “I have a gift for bringing people together to make one plus one equal three,” she notes.

As CEO, Harvey is working to expand River Edge's services. The state has approached the organization with two new service contracts that would provide for a 14-bed recovery residence for men and a psychiatric crisis stabilization service for children. She also is applying for a grant to maintain the area's mental health court.

Yet the economic climate remains an ongoing challenge. “We tend to serve the most vulnerable citizens,” Harvey explains. “A lot of those folks are publicly insured. As more people become uninsured and state budgets get cut, it becomes more challenging to help the people who need it the most.” But she adds, “At River Edge, we've really stepped up a notch in terms of efficiency. I'm proud that we're not just surviving right now but thriving in these difficult times.”

Brian Albright is a freelance writer.

Behavioral Healthcare 2009 May;29(5):40

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