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2011 Behavioral Healthcare Champions

July 20, 2011
by Dennis Grantham, Editor-in-Chief
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Debbie Sanford, Rich DeHaven, Leon Evans, Jeff Patton, and Matt Feehery honored this year
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Once again, I was honored to participate in the annual process that determines, from among many worthy nominees, who are to be the recipients of 2011 Behavioral Healthcare Champion awards. These annual awards will be presented on Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2011, at the National Conference on Addiction Disorders (NCAD) in San Diego, Calif.

The five Champions (Debbie Sanford, Rich DeHaven, Leon Evans, Jeff Patton, and Matt Feehery) stand out, not only among their peers-the CEOs and executive directors of community mental health and addiction treatment provider organizations-but also within their professional communities and organizations, which this year include:

  • The National Council,

  • The Mental Health Corporations of America (MHCA),

  • The National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers (NAATP), and,

  • The National Association of County Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities Directors (NACBHDD).

And, before more is said about the 2011 Champions in the pages that follow, let me say this: for every Champion selected, I know that there are many more leaders—nominated or not—whose efforts, teams, organizations, and contributions to the field deserve recognition as well.

Thanks to all of you, and to our 2011 Champions, from all of us—the staff of Behavioral Healthcare.

Debbie Sanford: Developing a passion for excellence

In a world where CEOs commonly lead from the front, Debbie Sanford's management style stands out. She doesn't see herself as the public face of her organization, Pine Grove Behavioral Health. Instead, she works very much in the background with a style of leadership that always seeks to put other people “out front.”

While she confesses, “I don't like the limelight,” Debbie's preference for a lower-key leadership style isn't based on shyness or inability. Rather, it's based on an assessment of the strengths she sees and seeks to develop in others. For example, she says, “There are people here who are great in the public eye-great speakers, great marketers, people who are great at addressing audiences. Why not put them out there?” she asks.

Debbie believes that “staying close to the work” is essential to her effectiveness. It's a lesson she learned during her years as a medical-surgical nurse, nurse administrator, and vice president for patient care at an acute-care hospital. She respects the example of “great administrators who were really out there with their people-encouraging them to do better, to always improve and grow. I've always tried to emulate that example. I've always tried to stay close to those who are doing the work.”

Since her promotion to Pine Grove's top post in early 2006, Debbie's experience has helped to guide Pine Grove through an evolution that added new outpatient workshop services to its well-known programs. With this service addition, Pine Grove launched a series of week-long workshops providing intensive therapy and psychoeducation to hundreds each year who, Debbie explains, “don't yet need a 90-day program.” Also during this time, Pine Grove has expanded its Evaluation Center which performs comprehensive and addiction evaluations for a wide range of clients. Another new initiative within Pine Grove's services provides care for autistic children, meeting a regional need.

To keep pace with this ongoing growth, Debbie continues to rely not only on an outstanding team, but on a continued effort to identify and develop the strengths of every member of the Pine Grove staff. “I've probably focused more effort on this than anything else,” she says. Her belief in such development is rooted in personal experience: Debbie credits her parents and her education, which includes three degrees (BS Nursing, MS Nursing Administration, and MBA), with fostering in her a strong work ethic, an interest in nursing, and a passion for excellence in all aspects of patient care delivery.

Sharing that passion is part of the Pine Grove culture that Debbie has sought to build. “It's important,” she asserts, “to make sure that we're developing people at all positions to achieve excellence.” Early in her tenure, for example, she required licensure for all therapists providing clinical care.

She believes that “putting people out front,” with freedom to test their abilities and limits, is critical to developing top-notch professionals.

So too, she believes, is education. That's why, with the help of Pine Grove's strong international reputation, Debbie continues to bring in top industry figures to lead staff training programs, offer perspectives, or fill key positions. “We've got to provide the latest education right here in Hattiesburg, where our people are, if we expect to remain a top program,” she says.

To keep Pine Grove staff “out front,” Debbie participates in their daily efforts to improve processes, customer service, and quality of care. “Staff are very creative in coming up with ideas for expanding and changing programs,” she says, joking that while she loves the ideas, “they know I'm big on action plans.” These, she teaches, are the difference between “having long lists of things to do and actually doing them, even if you only accomplish a few per year.”


Rich DeHaven: “What can we do to create better opportunities for those we serve?”

Like so many leaders in the field, Rich DeHaven, CEO of Aspire Indiana, could consider retirement. But, despite the rigors of 40 years, he's in no mood to go anywhere but forward. And, that's good news for Aspire Indiana (Noblesville, Ind.), the product of a 2009 merger of two well-established provider organizations that now serves the behavioral health needs of over 11,000 people annually, primarily in four central Indiana counties.