The Hippo


Jun 6, 2020








What are you really interested in right now?

I like to be outdoors. I like to kayak and explore the rivers and lakes here in New Hampshire.

Leading a top nonprofit
A look at Manchester’s Mental Health Center


Can you tell me a bit about yourself and your background?

I hail from Buffalo, New York, and I came to New Hampshire following graduating from Canisius College, which is a Jesuit school in Buffalo, New York, … to visit a friend. … And he suggested, when I was visiting him, that I apply for a job at the state hospital, because I was trained in the mental health field, and I did, got a job and worked at New Hampshire Hospital. … After about 18 months, I left and took a job as a clinical case manager for Carroll County Mental Health, which is Wolfeboro, North Conway. [I] worked up there for eight years and that’s where I met my wife, Gail, who is from Cleveland. … We moved to Concord. I applied to a job at Riverbend, didn’t get it, and applied for a job at Mental Health Center of Greater Manchester and did. And that was in 1985. And I’ve been at the center ever since, first as a clinician in our community support program and then [I] got into clinical supervision and became a program director. Then, in 2000, I became the chief operating officer of the organization and then, in the spring of 2015, when Peter Janelle retired, I was selected by the board to be the president. 
Your organization recently earned a Business Excellence Award. What do you think sets your organization apart?
I think a number of things. One is the fact that we’ve done so much to try to make mental health services available and accessible. For example, this past year, with the help of the Department of Health and Human Services and the Manchester Police Department, we have rolled out a mobile crisis response team and we have located that … team in the Manchester treatment and recovery center, which is the old Hoyt Furniture building. And we’re partnering there with Hope for NH Recovery and Families in Transition to be able to help create a solution for the mental health and opioid crisis and addiction crisis that we have in the city. This service can provide mobile response 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We went full open in January of 2017 and we have crisis apartments attached to that program and we’ve provided over 10,000 services to date. ... And 97 percent of the people that we have contact with are diverted from the emergency room, which was a big goal of the team. … I think the second thing is the center’s willingness to partner with other organizations. We have over 25 formal contractual agreements with various organizations, both educational organizations like Dartmouth and nonprofits like Easter Seals and Manchester Community Health Center … to provide mental health services and to create access for mental health services. … The Mental Health Center, in addition to being a treatment provider, we are a research center. So we have had a full-on research department here since 1995 and we … are working very hard to find the solutions for tomorrow in mental health.
What kind of research do you focus on?
Our research has been in the area of medicines, where we have done double blind studies of pharmaceuticals, and our research has been on methods. So we have done a lot of research on evidence-based practices such as assertive community treatment and supported employment and dialectical behavioral therapy and trauma-focused therapies.
What are some of the things that have changed in mental health treatment over the years, and what challenges do we still need to overcome?
The biggest change, I think, from the late 1970s, is that, at that time, most of the people that were treated at community mental health centers were referred to us through the state hospital. And most of our treatment in the ’80s was in facility. In other words, people came to our facility to get their treatment. … In the ’90s, things began to really change on two fronts. One, psychiatric medicines and the understanding of the brain improved dramatically. … Treatment went from the office to the community. … Programs like partial hospitalization were replaced with supportive employment. So rather than having mentally ill people come to a place where they were simply with other mentally ill people, the idea was that you would assimilate people with mental illness into the workforce. ... That’s a big emphasis of what we do today. More recently ... the Mental Health Center has evolved by developing a level of care system which allows our clinicians to become sub-specialists in the mental health field. 
— Ryan Lessard 

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