'Gutsy guy' at mental health helm

June 19, 1994|By Deidre Nerreau McCabe | Deidre Nerreau McCabe,Sun Staff Writer

Frank Sullivan likes a challenge and knows he'll get one as executive director of the county's new mental health agency.

Housing here is a "wreck," transportation is "terrible" and many other services are nonexistent or not accessible to mentally ill people, he said Tuesday.

But Mr. Sullivan, who holds a comparable position in St. Mary's County, is undaunted.

"It's a big job," he said. "But I'd like to think that starting a [mental health] agency gives the county an opportunity to develop a system.

"Right now, there are gaps in service, there are overlapping services. I don't see any unifying philosophy or strategy here at all."

That is about to change, he said.

"He's a gutsy guy," said Joseph DiLiberti, a board member of the newly established Anne Arundel County Mental Health Agency. "He was head and shoulders above the rest [of the applicants]. He's the one for the job."

Mr. DiLiberti, who was on the selection committee that hired Mr. Sullivan, 47, said five committee members reviewed 110

applications from all over the country.

They selected Mr. Sullivan, who has worked in the mental health field for 25 years, because he has run a mental health agency for three years, he was successful at getting grants and other funding sources and understood the county's needs.

"In just two weeks, he's identified two pressing needs, housing and crisis-intervention beds," said Mr. DiLiberti. "His approach seemed most complete. He can evaluate programs and implement new ones."

Although Mr. Sullivan was hired to fill the $55,000-a-year job June 7, he will not take over full-time for two months. Until Aug. 3, he will split his time between the two counties while St. Mary's administrators look for a replacement.

Dr. William Marek, the county's health officer and Mr. Sullivan's boss, said he is losing an innovator and gifted manager.

"Obviously, I'm sitting here lamenting his migration to Anne Arundel County," he said. "He is a long-range thinker and planner. He's not afraid to take a risk. He can get things done."

One of Mr. Sullivan's greatest strengths is his ability to coordinate nonprofit organizations and get agencies to work together to create a unified system of services, said Dr. Marek.

"He took an array of private-sector mental health programs that were very diverse and not communicating very well and brought them together into this system in which services are not duplicated and there are no gaps," said Dr. Marek.

Under Mr. Sullivan's leadership, St. Mary's County developed coordinated mental health clinics, a transportation program to get clients to and from appointments, a tracking system to make sure patients get treatment, additional housing and emergency services in the local hospital's emergency room.

Anne Arundel is one of the last counties in the state to organize a mental health agency, charged with planning, managing and monitoring the use of public funds for mental health services.

Maryland law requires each county to have such an agency by 1995. The belief is that local management of state funds results in better services. The move toward local control follows the growth of community-based, rather than institutional, mental health programs in the past 10 to 15 years.

Mental health advocates here are eager for Mr. Sullivan to get started, saying the county's mental health services have suffered for years through lack of leadership.

"Yes, it is a wreck. It's a farce," said Mr. DiLiberti. "But we feel he's up for it."

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