By Nathan Pilling
SPRINGFIELD — When Dr. Kent Youngman rides into the sunset at the end of this year, he’ll take with him more than 32 years of experience in the public mental health field — more on the riding into the sunset later.
Youngman, who is stepping down from his role as the CEO of the Mental Health and Recovery Board of Clark, Greene and Madison Counties, has taken on several roles through the years and has had a wide variety of experiences in the behavioral industry. But what he’s enjoyed most through those years is simple: collaboration.
“Figuring out how to get together to work together to address a problem, being creative about it or being collaborative in doing it, that general problem solving, big picture, ‘Let’s come together and figure out how to address this thing,’ those are the things that I enjoy the most,” Youngman said. “I think that’s the most fun, is when you can figure out to how to get people together, work together on a common issue.”
That answer makes sense coming from the leader of an organization that brings together the efforts of about 20 groups and other organizations from a tri-county area.
Before he got to that role, he began his work in the field as a juvenile probation officer in Newark, Ohio, where he eased into the field with a case load of about 75 kids. Eventually he found himself at the Greene County Educational Service Center, where he worked as a mental health therapist and eventually as the director of mental health.
Exciting, daunting times
Youngman called the current period an “exciting time,” but also said the times are a little daunting, noting challenges those who follow him will face, including growing heroin and opiate addiction trends as well as the challenge of coordinating efforts from various groups to address societal problems holistically.
Over his time in the field, Youngman has seen the rise of what he calls a heroin “epidemic,” which affects individuals in all societal categories. According to Youngman, treating addiction as a public health concern instead of primarily as a law enforcement concern is a critical step in reversing those trends.
“We really have to understand that, ‘I’m getting a person clean,’ ” he said. “The treatment part where they’re not using is only first step. The recovery process takes longer and that may be housing, that may be finding appropriate employment even though the person has had a previous drug history, that is social supports.”
Youngman advocates for a holistic approach to behavioral health.
“The next real big challenge I think will be … how to address the whole spectrum of behavioral health issues, so it’s mental illness, it’s prevention, it’s addictions, it’s physical health, it’s housing, it’s employment, it’s all of those things that we really are becoming much more aware of and understanding that all have to be addressed,” he said. “You have to figure out how to do all of those things in a way that meets not only individual’s needs, but meets societal needs.”
These are challenges Youngman has faced and attempted to address in his career and are ones the next wave of leadership will face. As he leaves the role of CEO behind, Youngman said he is confident in the team that will follow him – part of that team will be Greta Mayer, a current board staff member, who will take over the CEO role starting in 2016.
Youngman currently teaches part-time at Wright State University and said he plans to continue that after his retirement. He’s also hopeful about the potential for creating an institute there that would promote prevention and recovery systems of care. Some consulting might be in the mix as well.
Beyond that, Youngman will probably be found out on his motorcycle. He’s a self-described motorcycle enthusiast who loves long-distance riding. His next serious trip is a doozy that will likely leave him a little saddle-sore: an approximately 3,000-mile round trip to Montana and back.
When he retires from this lengthy career serving others, that ride into the sunset might not be so figurative.
Reach Nathan Pilling at 937-502-4498 or on Twitter @XDGNatePilling.