XENIA — CEO Lynn West has retired after 20 years of service to TCN Behavioral Health Services.
Her path to TCN began when she was young, when her mother was a nurse in a psychiatric unit.
Following her mother’s footsteps, West became a charge nurse in the inpatient unit at Mental Health Services in Springfield right after she graduated. She transitioned from one unit to the next — crisis, outpatient, and then adolescent mental health. She left Mental Health in 1989 and then began working on the Mental Health and Recovery Board. In 1997, she left and found her way to what is now called TCN.
A small organization called Mental Health Resources morphed into The Community Network — TCN — and West entered as chief operating officer, a role that she soon found was part of a whole different ballgame.
“I used to be the one standing outside administrations’ doors and saying, ‘What in the name of God do they do all day?’ Well, I found out,” West said.
In this role, West transformed the organization, using her background as a nurse and embracing the importance of operating a strong business.
“I think the biggest challenge, especially for a clinical person, is that you have to realize running an agency is more than doing good things for clients. It’s your driving force, but it’s a business, too,” West said. “It’s very difficult to acclimate to the fact that this really is a business — and then to run a business.”
Taking over as chief executive officer in 2002, West lead the organization out of bankruptcy and in the meantime, built a strong team.
“We didn’t know if we were going to make it,” West said. “To staff, I’d say, ‘Stick with us. Invest in us like I’m investing in you and there will be good times and we’ll share in it together’.”
Although it hasn’t been easy over the years, West said her team helped make her last job her favorite job. One of the best things, she confessed, is being able to try out new ideas.
“They’d say, ‘Let’s try it!’ And I’d say — my favorite line — ‘We’ll try it. If it doesn’t work, we’ll drop back 15 and punt and try something else’.”
But next to West’s loyal team comes her clients.
According to Associate CEO Tom Otto, if there is one person who really epitomizes care for clients, it’s West.
“No matter how many patients we work with, every one’s like the first one for her,” Otto said. “It’s easy to get desensitized … But she never let anything get like that. She’s always kept us in a spot where — this patient is like the first patient you’ve ever seen.”
Especially close to her heart is the Christopher House, a residential facility that serves men by addressing their alcohol and chemical addictions.
West said she brings her two bichon dogs to the Christopher House every day where the men earn the privilege to take care of them.
“They LOVE the dogs,” West said. “And so I get to meet a lot of the guys. If you end up at the Christopher House, a lot of times you’ve severed all the ties to your own family. They think of me as a grandmother or mother and I just absolutely love them.”
West said the success stories that come out of the house are inspiring.
“When I see them, you know, who have been using drugs or alcohol for years — When I see them go a year sober I just … it makes you cry,” West said. “I just think the Christopher House is magical … Guys say to me ‘This place is different. If I hadn’t come here, I would’ve died’.”
According to the former CEO, TCN is successful in all of its branches, and the number of Greene County residents it serves continues to increase every day.
The non-profit offers walk-in clinics, case management services, outpatient treatment for alcohol and drugs and mental health, detoxification and residential treatment.
“We’re busting at the seams,” West said, who mentioned they are expanding services into Montgomery County.
Lori Strobl took West’s place Sept. 1, transitioning from vice president of Human Resources and Legal Services to CEO.
“It’s going to be very easy as far as taking over because Lynn has made such a solid foundation for us,” Strobl said. “She’s absolutely put us in the right track for the future.”
After 47 years in the mental health field, West is moving on — this time to Georgia to be close to her daughter, with her two dogs following close behind.