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New director takes reins at community services board

South Boston News
Beth Engelhorn / September 28, 2016
Southside Community Services, the main provider of behavioral health, intellectual disability and substance abuse services in Halifax, Mecklenburg and Brunswick counties, has a new leader: Beth Engelhorn.

She first joined the organization about two and a half years ago. “I moved here for the assistant director’s position. When the director left, I became the acting director and then director.” Her predecessor, Don Burge departed in September 2015, and the SCS board named her director in August.

Moving forward, Engelhorn said she and her staff are concentrating on the “nuts and bolts of the agency. Making certain all services are up to par and providing what the community wants and needs.” She’s also reorganizing the daily operations of the agency and filling vacant positions.

“I know there have been a lot of concerns about the agency in the past, and we are working to address those,” said Engelhorn. Towards that end, she’s hired two new managers — one to oversee outpatient services and the other for community services.

As much as possible, Engelhorn said, “We’re hiring from within. We have a lot of talented people here who know the community.”

Already this has made a difference in the attitude and morale of the staff who work for Southside Community Services. “People say they’re happier. I think it’s nice for people to see their co-workers being recognized and promoted for good work.”

Engelhorn said she has no plans to do a wholesale overhaul of the agency. “If there’s a problem and someone has a solution, I say let’s give it a try. But if it’s already working, I don’t see the need to change the way things are being done.”

In the month since Engelhorn permanently assumed the director’s role, she’s been pleased with how open the staff and community have been with her and the changes being implemented. “I believe our people here have our clients’ best interest at heart.” She adds that her “open-door policy” encourages more and better teamwork.

One new program that Engelhorn says she is especially proud of is the agency’s new emergency services department, with its own dedicated staff. “This new team allows our outpatient clinicians to do their job without being pulled away to address emergencies. It makes for a better business model.”

One of her biggest frustrations — something she plans to work to improve going forward — is the public’s lack of awareness of the types of services provided through Southside Community Services. “People don’t know what falls under SCS. I am working on rebranding us so everyone knows who we are and what we do,” she said.

This includes a redesign of the community services board’s marketing materials and communications within the community.

To accomplish this goal, Engelhorn said she is willing to meet with anyone that has a stake in the organization and is interested in helping them be a better community partner.

“We want the public to continue to express their concerns, compliments and suggestions. I don’t know what or how to fix things that I don’t know about.”

Looking to the future, Engelhorn said she would like to work with community leaders in Mecklenburg and Brunswick counties to implement the types of programs recently begun in Halifax County — including a drug court and a hospital-based, crisis intervention unit. “We also need to develop more and better programs involving the care of our geriatric population with mental health issues, since we are seeing more of them living longer.”

Of course, in an ideal world, Engelhorn said it “would be great if we could talk more openly about mental and behavioral health issues and stop treating them as if they are a stigma. Even us, in the industry, to some extent are guilty of this.”

Southside Community Services operates three facilities in Mecklenburg County, three in Brunswick County, and five in Halifax. The agency has upwards of 1,600 “unduplicated clients” that the staff works with — the largest group of clients living in Halifax. While their case managers “currently have a full caseload, we never turn anyone away. If we can’t fit you into our schedule, we will find someone who can.”

Engelhorn began studying psychology at Virginia Commonwealth University in 1978. She said instead of graduating, she moved to Boston and became a buyer for the Jordan Marsh department store chain. “While there, I learned about business, bottom lines, and business planning.”

When Engelhorn married, she stayed home to raise her two boys. Once both children were old enough to attend school fulltime, Engelhorn said she returned to school, earning a B.A. in psychology from Norwich University in Vermont. She then received a M.A. in counseling and psychology from Goddard College.

During her career, Engelhorn said she has been a coordinator for children’s services, worked at community crisis centers, oversaw in-home community based services, helped develop a Medicaid expansion system, and handled case management for the Governor’s Assistance Program.

Through these jobs she said, “I had a full immersion into urban poverty, and saw how managed care affects people who use mental health programs,” which she believes helped her upon her return to Southside Virginia.

In 2013, Engelhorn said she was looking to return home, having grown up in King George County, and accepted the job as assistant director at Southside Community Services.

She has two grown children living in New England, two step-children who are Virginia-based. Engelhorn’s husband teaches culinary arts at Appomattox High School

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