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Longtime Missouri DMH Director Announces Retirement


Dr. Keith Schafer, the Director of the Missouri Department of Mental Health, announced Wednesday that he plans to retire on June 30. 

Dr. Schafer has 28 years of experience in the mental health field.  He served as Missouri’s DMH Director two different times, once from 1986-1994 and again from 2007-2015.

Dr. Schafer said that over the years, the Department has felt like home.

“We have such great staff who are highly dedicated to serving the people that we serve,” said Dr. Schafer.  “I’ve found it a really good cause, a good calling, and even with the stress that’s associated, I’ve enjoyed it immensely.”

Steve Roling is a Mental Health Commissioner in the Department.  He said Dr. Schafer has expressed the kind of leadership that is hard to replace.

“He’s been very innovative in providing programs, leading folks to understand the importance of helping people with mental illness,” Roling said.  “He’s just the kind of a person that people in the community and people in government want to follow.”

Dr. Schafer led the Department during major programming changes such as the establishment of Partnership for Hope – a program focused on assisting Missourians with developmental disabilities and their families.  He said the program allowed the Department to provide more early-intervention services at lower costs.

“Three years ago… we had over 3,000 people on a wait list waiting for service, so Partnership for Hope was clearly a major change for us in how we do business,” Dr. Schafer said.

He also made key efforts to support the rebuilding of Fulton State Hospital.  The current facility was built in 1851 and the Department is building a new psychiatric facility, with construction expected to start late this spring and finish in 2017.

Roling said he thinks Dr. Schafer’s role in the construction of the new Fulton facility will be one of his most impactful achievements.

“That facility has been outdated.  It’s dangerous for both people who work there and the people who are housed there,” Roling said. “It’s time for us to do better by those people, and under [Dr. Schafer’s] leadership and the leadership of the legislature and the Governor, we’ve made that happen.”

Dr. Schafer said he had been contemplating retirement for the last two years and decided that stepping down would allow him more time to spend with his family.

Mental Health Commission Chair Neva Thurston appointed Roling to lead the search process for a new Department Director.  The Mental Health Commission will start the 60-day national search Friday and plans to have a new Director hired by this summer.

“We’re looking for somebody who has knowledge of the field and someone who’s what I call a ‘servant leader;’ someone who can treat people fairly and respectfully with humility,” Roling said.