Woodlands celebrates anniversary

Published 10:48 am Monday, October 5, 2015

Woodlands CEO Kathy Emans welcomes guests to the community mental health agency’s 50th anniversary celebration Friday morning at Southwestern Michigan College. (Leader photo/TED YOAKUM)

Woodlands CEO Kathy Emans welcomes guests to the community mental health agency’s 50th anniversary celebration Friday morning at Southwestern Michigan College. (Leader photo/TED YOAKUM)

In spite of glowing endorsements from area legislators, law enforcement officials, former employees, directors and more, the testimonials that moved attendees the most at Woodlands’ 50th anniversary event Friday morning were from the men and women who are now living healthy, productive lives thanks to the facility’s help.

Speaking in front of a crowd of more than 50 guests from around southwest Michigan and beyond gathered inside Southwestern Michigan College’s Mathews Conference Center, one of these former patients, Misty, described her experiences
working with Woodlands staff to overcome the drug addiction she had since she was 10 years old. Using substances like meth to escape from a troubled childhood, Misty’s self-destructive lifestyle eventually landed her in Cass County jail in 2011 — and into a drug treatment program administered by county mental health agency.

Four years later, the woman is living a drug free life, attending classes at the Dowagiac community college, caring for her young child at home, and working with Woodlands to provide peer support to patients, she said.

“Without these programs, I know for a fact that I would not be standing here and tell you that I’d be alive, or that my son would have a safe and happy home,” Misty said.

Her tearful recounting of her story drew standing applause from the entire room.

“This is what we do — and this is why we do it,” said Woodlands CEO Kathy Emans. “Treatment works. People recover.”

The Cass County mental health clinic celebrated its half-century anniversary with a special luncheon that day at the college. Woodlands invited current and former employees and board members, along with partners and others from the community to the event.

Woodlands began life in Oct. 1965 as the Cass County Community Mental Health Authority, then one of first community mental health organizations in the state of Michigan. The agency originally operated from out of the garage of one its board members in Edwardsburg, with only a single employee and a budget of $5,008. It would hire its first social worker in 1971, and first physiologist in 1973.

In 1990, the CMH moved out of the basement of the former Cass Family Clinic on School Street and into a new facility on M-60 in Cassopolis, where it still resides today. In 1993, the agency officially renamed itself to Woodlands Behavioral Healthcare Network.

“Today, Woodlands offers over 30 behavioral health services, either directly or contractually provided, and utilizes 10 evidence-based practices and service provision,” Emans said. “We see over 1,600 Cass County individuals per year, with a budget of $12.7 million — a big change from 1965.”

In addition to helping adults and children overcome issues pertaining to mental health, Woodlands staff also provides treatment for local individuals dealing with substance abuse. As a result, Woodlands and the Cass County court system work closely together through the latter’s drug, mental health and other court programs, to help provide treatment as an alternative to incarceration for participating criminals.

“Mental health is the least served health issue in this country,” said Cass County Family Court Judge Susan Dobrich. “As a result, unfortunately, many people who can be served elsewhere are ending up in our jails. So our jails, across this county, are becoming our mental health facilities.”

Dobrich has worked with Woodlands since the formation the county’s drug court program in 2001. Since then, a majority of individuals enrolled in this and other court-supervised treatment programs have successfully completed rehabilitation plans, with many of these figures higher than the typical state average, Dobrich said.

“Without the work of Woodlands and the individuals who serve our many, many clients, we would not be having these success rates,” she said.