Curry Co. Mental health director resigns amid budget cuts

From the Curry County Coastal Pilot, February 25 2009

Curry County Clinical Director of Mental Health and the Drug and Alcohol Program, Teri Bell, has resigned and is leaving Curry County to return to Reno, Nev., in April.

“I didn’t want to retire,” Bell said. She explained that, because of stringent budget cuts, her position had become untenable. “It’s not because the job is harder. It’s more a matter of survival,” she said.

As she talked, it became apparent that her strong desire is to help people overcome addictions and disabilities. She said she had earned awards for her work in drug and alcohol and domestic violence treatment in Reno when she applied for a job as county prevention coordinator for Curry County.

She said she had served in treatment long enough. “I wanted to try prevention,” she said.

When she was hired and came to Curry County in January 1999, the full-time prevention position was funded by a grant. “But, the situation changed in mid-2000,” Bell said.

At that time the private nonprofit organization that had been providing the drug and alcohol and domestic violence treatment program for Curry County, left the county, and Bell was asked to assume responsibility for that program as well.

Bell became clinical director for prevention and treatment programs for alcohol and drug, domestic violence, gambling, disabilities, and mental health for the county in addition to the prevention programs.

In 2002 the major state funding cuts began. “When I started, we had 38 employees for treatment and prevention programs. There are now 20 employees, with only eight in mental health,” Bell said.

For the last seven years, while serving as clinical director for prevention and treatment, in all of those programs, the funding has been drying up.

“It’s just an impossible situation,” Bell said. She said that during nights and weekends there is only one person to serve in a crisis situation.

“There’s no place to put someone who is suicidal. You can’t get a bed, and there’s no transportation. There are more budget cuts coming and there’s nothing left to cut. It’s so bleak it’s time for me to get out and do something else” Bell added.

In addition to her job in social services, trying to help people in trouble, Bell has also been volunteering at His Haven of Hope once a week, working with early recovery and other issues, as well as helping at the Chetco Activity Center.

She is retuning to Reno where she has a home.

“I don’t plan on retiring from service work,” she said. “I have a little Social Security and my home in Reno was paid off last year. There’s a big veterans’ clinic there and I can volunteer to help veterans returning from Iraq with post-traumatic stress syndrome, and I’ll be able to help in other places that can’t afford to pay.”

“I need a challenge, and unfortunately, when funding stops social services are cut. That’s short sighted, but that’s the way it is. In a survival mode there’s no chance for creativity or change You can’t do program development or get to more effective services when there’s no funding.”

Curry County Director of Human Services Joe Adair said, “It’s true. Our services are becoming more limited. She’s at retirement age and no doubt tired of fighting the good fight.”

Adair explained that with budget cuts over the years and decrease in state hospital beds it often requires searching across the state to find room for those with mental health and addiction issues who need treatment.

“With all of the cuts, we can no longer serve people without funds other than those in the Oregon Health Plan with mental health approval. “It’s a struggle,” he emphasized.

Bell said she looks forward to working in a volunteer situation where she can say, “Gee, I’d like to develop this program,” and feel there’s a chance to go for it.

Bell has a masters’ degree in education and certification in mental health services in Nevada and Oregon, plus years of other training and experience that she wants to continue to use to help those in need.

Her original training in health and education was obtained during her seven years in the U.S. Air Force when she transferred from her job as a Russian linguist. “I got bored with my spy job, just sitting and listening to Russian broadcasts,” she said. When she discovered an opening in a night school program for drug and alcohol treatment and she applied for a transfer to the training program.

Returning to her home in Nevada will be a bit like coming round full circle for Bell, as she plans to use skills learned in the Air Force to help service personnel overcome disabilities and addictions.