South Lane Mental Health

SLMH got its start in 1988, thanks to the generous and open hearts of the ministers and congregation of the Cottage Grove First Presbyterian Church. They allowed a mentally ill homeless woman to sleep in the parlor and cook her meals in the church kitchen.  As there were no mental health services available locally, she ended up hospitalized in a state facility near Portland when her condition deteriorated. On her release, a residential placement was advised. She had hoped to return to Cottage Grove, but there were no options available to her here.

This case was the impetus for the church to form a Board of Directors and to pursue incorporation and fund raising.  The Woodard family donated their former house on Main Street to serve as a foster home for 5 clients.  Another anonymous donor offered $10,000 cash. By 1989, the Bohemia Residential Community was incorporated, and a part-time director was hired. 

In 1991 the agency contracted with Lane County to provide mental health services to the larger community. The name of the organization changed from Bohemia Residential Community to South Lane Mental Health.  In 1992 Tom Wheeler was hired as the agency director, with goals to expand housing options for the severely mentally ill and offer counseling services to any South Lane residents requesting help.

The 1990s saw the development and expansion of assisted living facilities, supported housing and services, and low-income apartments. In 1994, an office for outpatient services was opened on North Ninth Street, expanding from fewer than 50 clients to more than 300 in over 4 years.

By 2002, more than 20 staff were serving 600 clients with supported housing, medication management, outpatient counseling, and social work. In 2006, SLMH began serving children.

By 2006 it was becoming evident that the agency needed a new home to expand services. In 2008, the "Restore Hope, Renew Lives" fundraising campaign was born, eventually raising more than $800,000 from over 200 donors. This allowed SLMH to qualify for a Community Development Block Grant through the city of Cottage Grove, in order to purchase and remodel the agency's current home on Birch Avenue, completed in July 2010.

By 2009, SLMH was serving 1,200 clients a year with a budget of $2 million, and a staff including 3 psychiatric NPs, 8 supported housing staff, 20 counselors, 4 residential workers and 7 office staff.

In 2011, already at full capacity, the CHEC building was purchased and remodeled to allow development of Intensive Community Treatment Services (ICTS) for children.

2012 saw the beginning of the agency's involvement with Community Health Workers (training and supervising), rapid expansion of pediatric services and outreach, and the training of staff to provide the first local Batterer's Intervention Program. Under Tom Wheeler's leadership, the agency has kept its eye firmly fixed on the goal of providing as many mental health services as possible for all those in need.

With the recent upheaval in how the Oregon Health Plan provides and pays for all medical services, the agency is facing significant challenges in the coming year, but is on firm footing to do so.  - Written by Lauren Fuller and edited by Tom Wheeler.  Presented at 2013 Annual Board Meeting

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