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KBIA’s Health & Wealth Desk covers the economy and health of rural and underserved communities in Missouri and beyond. The team produces a weekly radio segment, as well as in-depth features and regular blog posts. The reporting desk is funded by a grant from the University of Missouri, and the Missouri Foundation for Health.Contact the Health & Wealth desk.

Meet the New Director for the Missouri Department of Mental Health

Rebecca Smith

Mark Stringer, the new Director for the Missouri Department of Mental Health began his job last week. This follows eight years as the Director for the Division of Behavioral Health and more than 28 years of experience in the mental health field.  KBIA’s Rebecca Smith sat down with Stringer to discuss his goals for the department and the challenges he expects to face. 

This interview has been condensed and edited for content and clarity.

Now, you have more than 28 years of experience in the mental health field. Did you always know you wanted to work in this field? 

My father was very much a self-taught man and he loved psychology. He just loved it. So I think I inherited some of that love for psychology and mental health from him.

Having worked for the Department of Mental Health for many years and as the Director for the Division of Behavioral Health for the past eight, you must feel pretty comfortable with the Department. But what will be your first order of business as Director?

I need to get out. Certainly to see people, both the people who work in our state hospitals, the people who work in our rehabilitation centers, but also the people who work in our contracted agencies. And just as important, I need to go out and see the people that we serve. So I'll hit the road for a while. Because I come from the behavioral health division, you know, I'm certainly more familiar with our programs and services than I am with the services in the developmental disabilities division. So that will be an important next step for me too. Is to spend more time in the development disabilities world.

Are there any challenges that you see the Department facing during your tenure?

Funding is always an issue. We always, always have more need for our services than we can provide. And that to me is just terribly frustrating. And we also have people, I also say, are literally dying to get in for our services, but they can't because there is simply not enough funding to serve everybody that needs to be served.

Well, do you think there is a way to get more Missourians into needed services?

Ultimately, it is a funding problem. A lot of the people that we serve right now and a lot of people we could serve can't get in because there's not enough funding. Medicaid expansion would significantly alleviate that problem. So that there would absolutely be more services available to more Missourians.

So what are your priorities as director?

Building the new Fulton state hospital. I fully intend to see that completed before I’m finished here and it certainly should be finished and we should have patients in it by 2018. So building the new Fulton state hospital is a big priority. The other one is that we have people with developmental disabilities and serious mental illness, significant behavioral challenges that we just don’t have a good treatment model for in this state. And so what happens is we have people with developmental disabilities and mental illness combined that are languishing in jails or inappropriately in nursing homes. So I hope to find that model and implement that in Missouri.

Rebecca Smith is a reporter and producer for the KBIA Health & Wealth desk. She was born and raised in Rolla, Missouri, and graduated with degrees in Journalism and Chemistry from Truman State University in May 2014. Rebecca comes to KBIA from St. Louis Public Radio, where she worked as the news intern and covered religion, neighborhood growth and the continued unrest in Ferguson, MO.
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