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Tim Steller, who will retire next week, has seen the promise of change give way to the reality of reduced state funding.
Thursday, June 20, 2013
Six years ago, when Tim Steller took over the community services board that serves the Roanoke Valley's mentally ill, change was in the air.
A mass shooting at Virginia Tech by a mentally disturbed student had raised public awareness of shortcomings in the state's mental health system. Steller's agency, Blue Ridge Behavioral Healthcare, stood to benefit from more funding and resources.
Then came the recession of 2008, and with it statewide budget cuts to community-based treatment.
Steller, who will retire next week as Blue Ridge's executive director, has seen the promise of change give way to the reality of reduced state funding.
"It's sort of a mixed picture," he said Wednesday.
"In one sense the community is very fortunate to have a wide array of public and private services" for people like the ones served by Blue Ridge - those who cope with mental illness, substance abuse and intellectual disabilities.
"On the other hand," he added, "our capacity is still no where near what it should be."
All too often, he said, people who seek help from the agency are referred elsewhere because of limited resources.
Blue Ridge operates on an annual budget of $26 million. It has about 350 employees to serve an area that includes the cities of Roanoke and Salem and the counties of Botetourt, Craig and Roanoke.
In 2007, when Steller started his job, the annual budget was $30 million and the staff exceeded 400.
As one of 40 community services boards in Virginia, Blue Ridge works under contract with the state Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services.
Its funding comes from the state and local governments, federal and private grants, and reimbursement from federal agencies, client insurers and private payments.
Steller, 65, will step down at the end of the month. "At my age I still have good health, and I wanted to be able to enjoy it," he said.
After leading a similar agency in Wisconsin for 16 years, Steller came to Roanoke in 2007 with plans to spend his retirement in the area.
His involvement in community-based treatment goes beyond his work at Blue Ridge. Steller has served on the boards of Mental Health America of Roanoke Valley and the local chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
"He's been good to work with, and is very open to suggestions from advocacy organizations," said Diane Kelly of Mental Health America.
After Steller's departure, Marlene Bryant, Blue Ridge's director of business and financial services, will serve as interim executive director.
At least three applicants for the top job, all from out of state, are currently being considered by the agency's board of directors.
Even with funding shortfalls, Steller has "worked really hard to maximize the use of resources" at Blue Ridge, Kelly said.
During the last fiscal year, about 7,700 people found help from the agency, which has locations on Brandon Avenue, Elm Avenue, Hollins Road, Liberty Road and McDowell Avenue.
Yet Steller said he "takes no pride at all" in some of the statistics.
According to an internal report from last fall, of the nearly 300 people who sought help in September and October, only about 30 percent were admitted for the outpatient treatment provided by the agency.
The rest were referred to other support groups.
"The community is very fortunate to have what we have," Steller said. "But we need more."
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