Bert Nash celebrates its 70th anniversary; CEO notes organization’s external growth

photo by: Jeff Burkhead

Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center CEO Patrick Schmitz is pictured in June of 2019.

The mission of the Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center — an organization celebrating its 70th anniversary this year — is more relevant than ever, its leader says, because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The people the organization served prior to the pandemic have not seen their symptoms disappear, Bert Nash CEO Patrick Schmitz said. In some cases, their symptoms have become worse. And in addition, people who previously may not have struggled with mental health concerns may now be struggling as a consequence of social isolation and other hardships related to the pandemic.

“I think the pandemic has shown us how important good mental health is — how easily good mental health can be disrupted due to significant events such as the pandemic,” Schmitz said.

Schmitz, who has been the CEO of Bert Nash since 2017, spoke to the Journal-World by phone at the end of September regarding the organization’s 70th anniversary and its future.

The center was established in 1950, three years after the death of Dr. Bert Nash, a University of Kansas educational psychologist. The organization, then called the Bert Nash Mental Health Clinic, was a “living memorial” that continued the work of Nash, who was an advocate for improved mental health services for children, the center’s June newsletter said.

A snapshot of Bert Nash in 2020

When asked to provide a snapshot of the organization at this moment in time, Schmitz — setting aside the global pandemic for a moment — said he’s excited about the organization’s internal and external growth. Internally, Schmitz said he thinks there is greater growth and integration among team members. And externally, the organization is involved in numerous programs and projects that will expand the reach of its services.

As the Journal-World has reported, Transitions, a group-home living space that will be part of the greater Treatment and Recovery Campus of Douglas County, will be operated by Bert Nash. This space, which is being built by Douglas County, will have the capacity to house up to 12 clients for anywhere from six to 12 months. It should open in late November or early December.

photo by: Jeff Burkhead

Patrick Schmitz, right, and Bert Nash Center’s Supportive Housing manager Mathew Faulk, left, are pictured in front of Transitions on Aug. 19, 2020.

Bert Nash is also involved in the Douglas County Crisis and Recovery Center, another facility within the Treatment and Recovery Campus, which is located at 1000 W. Second St., near the corner of Maine and West Second streets. The Douglas County Crisis and Recovery Center is a planned 20,000-square-foot facility that would provide behavioral health crisis services. The facility includes 16 spaces for people to receive 23 hours of observation from behavioral health professionals and another 16 bedrooms for others to receive 72 hours of observation. It should be ready for occupancy in the fall of 2021.

In addition to these new centers, Schmitz also mentioned ongoing programs with local schools. The Working to Recognize Alternative Possibilities (WRAP) program, an in-school therapy program, will be expanding, he said. Additionally, Bert Nash announced a new school program, Building Bridges, on Thursday. This program is being funded through Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES) funds and will provide case management and parent support services after school from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Facing the COVID-19 pandemic

When asked if the COVID-19 crisis has been the biggest challenge the organization has had to face in recent years, Schmitz said he “can’t imagine anything even coming close to this.” Schmitz said Bert Nash is preparing and planning for the pandemic to be a long-term event, and that it is adapting its services in order to navigate it.

“I’m not going to say we are completely in the clear … but I feel much stronger and much more hopeful than I certainly did in the early days of this pandemic,” Schmitz said.

In July, Bert Nash had to eliminate 15 positions because of the pandemic, resulting in six layoffs. Schmitz said the organization does not anticipate any more cuts.

In addition to the school-based projects, Transitions and the Douglas County Crisis and Recovery Center, Schmitz said that he’s most looking forward to expanding offerings to younger children and their families. A training program geared toward helping those affected by autism had to be canceled because of the pandemic, but Schmitz hopes to reengage those efforts in 2021.

Schmitz said he’s proud of the strong support Bert Nash receives from the Douglas County community. People truly care about others’ mental health in Douglas County, Schmitz said, not only by supporting the center but also by being open to discussing mental health.

“I think 70 years is definitely an accomplishment, and I’m proud to be a part of that legacy and all the work that went into getting to 70 years,” Schmitz said.

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