When Pam Gutierrez first began her career as a mental health case manager at the Denton County MHMR Center, it was in an old house located on Oak Street. There were at least 10 people on staff, and the center handled 15 cases.
Last Thursday, members of the board of directors named Gutierrez, 50, the new executive director of the health center. Gutierrez has served as the facility’s interim director after the resignation of Bill Drybread, who retired after a 40-year career in providing mental health care. She officially started in her new position Monday.
“I started fresh out of college and have worked in various positions at the center,” Gutierrez said. “I love what we do in our community, so for me to be in this position and serve our community is my heart, that’s my love. I have grown up here.”
Prior to becoming executive director, Gutierrez had served as chief operating officer of the center since 2008. She also served from 2000-08 as administrator of the human resources department and as administrator of quality assurance, legal liaison and employee relations from 1995-2000.
It was in 1996 that the Denton County MHMR Center moved from the house on Oak Street to a new building on Scripture Street.
Its $28,000 construction was presided by then-executive director Cindy Sill.
Its construction was presided over by then-executive director Cindy Sill.
Sill left the CEO position that same year to become the executive director of Tri-County Services, a community MHMR center serving Walker, Liberty and Montgomery counties.
Gutierrez began her career at the mental health center in 1987 as case manager. A year later, she became director of case management and intake. She is a graduate of the University of North Texas, where she earned bachelor’s degrees in science in psychology and political science in 1985, as well as a master’s degree in counseling in 1990.
Coby Waddill, Denton County MHMR chairman of the board, said in a statement that Gutierrez was selected from more than 70 qualified candidates in a nationwide search.
“Pam is a shining example of why our center is able to provide quality health care services to our community,” he said.
Denton County Judge Mary Horn was pleased to hear of Gutierrez’s selection.
“Since she has spent her entire career dedicated to Denton County MHMR, her historical knowledge and experience will allow for the continuation of the good work of this office for the benefit of Denton County citizens,” she said.
Gutierrez said that because of her experience at the county center, she is aware of the needs of patients dealing with mental health issues or who have intellectual/developmental disabilities and other related conditions. Denton County MHMR treats approximately 1,000 patients monthly who suffer from schizophrenia, bipolar disorders or major depression.
And another 200 are on a waiting list, she said.
“We continue to be the lowest-funded center,” Gutierrez said. “And the growth of Denton County is astronomical. … There are so many people who need our help. Truly we need additional funding.”
The Denton County MHMR’s operating budget composed of federal, state and grant funds is $20 million a year, Gutierrez said.
As executive director, her immediate goal is to help the center acquire funds to add psychiatric triage, integrated behavioral and primary health care. Another wish is to add a crisis residential facility.
Gutierrez, along with members of her staff, is submitting an application for a federal Section 1115 grant.
Last year, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services via the Office of the Administration for Children and Families awarded grants ranging from $40,000 to $225,000 to only nine projects across the country, according to its website.
Denton County MHMR has 300 people on staff. About 40,000 residents are in need of mental health care in the county.
The last year the center added any new services was in 2007 during the 80th Texas legislative session, when the center received $4.1 million to help establish a 24-hour crisis hotline and to create mobile response teams. In 2008, the Denton County center received more than $260,000 in federal Housing and Urban Development grant money to help the chronically homeless.
Gutierrez, like Drybread — her predecessor — said the center is not only available for people who have mental health needs or have intellectual/developmental disabilities, but for anyone undergoing any form of crisis.
“We want to offer our services where people live, whatever that will be,” she said.
KARINA RAMÍREZ can be reached at 940-566-6878. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .