ELYRIA — The new Mental Health, Addiction and Recovery Services Board of Lorain County had its first meeting Tuesday after Lorain County Common Pleas Judge Chris Cook administered the oath to the 16 members who were present.
The board then got down to business and picked an interim leader for the agency: Elaine Georgas, who was the executive director of the former Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services Board. She will be the interim director of the MHARS board, at her current rate of pay and benefits, the board announced.
They also unanimously chose Dr. Hope Moon as chairwoman pro tem to lead meetings until board officers can be chosen, chose the board’s official name and a recommended logo design.
Moon told her fellow board members she looks forward to working with them.
“This is going to be a dynamic board because it’s a bunch of dynamic people,” she said.
Board members serve as volunteers without pay. Many said Tuesday they got involved with the board because of an interest in community service, because they already work in mental health or addiction services, are personally in recovery or had friends or family in recovery or because they lost family members to addiction.
Board members agreed they also wanted the word “recovery” in the new board’s name to show recovery is possible both when it comes to addiction or mental health crises.
The other option was naming the board some variation on “Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services” or by the acronym ADAMHS, but “we liked to have ‘recovery’ in the name,” board member Pamela Waite said.
The board’s new logo also contains a lighthouse, which is a nod both to Lorain County’s nautical influences and history as well as showing the board as a “beacon of hope” or a safe place in a storm, board communications director Clare Rosser explained.
Minor changes to the logo and some additional changes to the board’s bylaws are expected in the coming weeks. During that time, board members are encouraged to think about committee assignments, whether they want to serve as board officers and to prepare for a board retreat where they can further get to know their colleagues.
In the meantime, board members went around the table Tuesday night to introduce themselves.
The members are Ted Kalo, former county Commissioner and current Lorain Municipal Court Clerk; Inez James, Ohio Turnpike and Infrastructure Commission employee and former candidate for Lorain City Council; Dr. Denise Eacott, a psychologist and mental health clinician for the former mental health board; David DiTullio, a former ADAS board member who also served on the Portage County Mental Health and Recovery Board more than 20 years ago; Kara Keating Copeland, who has a background in higher education and nonprofit philanthropy; Arthur Cleary, who is active in the recovery community; David Ashenhurst, a state-appointed consumer representative on the mental health board; Waite, formerly of the ADAS board and who served on a similar joint board for Erie and Ottawa counties; Dan Urbin, who is active in prison ministry and the recovery community; Karen Sutera, formerly of the mental health board; Jim Schaeper, employed with PNC Bank; Sandra Premura, employed with the Ohio Department of Transportation for 33 years; Regan Phillips, employed with the city of Elyria; Moon, a former ER nurse who is on the faculty at Lorain County Community College; Karen McIlwaine, who said she considers her work a “community service;” and Tim Carrion, an insurance agent and former candidate for mayor of Lorain who was on the mental health board.
Former mental health board members Dr. Tracey Frierson and Joe Hribar also are on the new board, but were excused from Tuesday’s meeting.
A Lorain County native who spent 28 years with the ADAS board, including 19 as executive director, Georgas said board members “all have voices that are going to be very, very important to the work” the board does.
She said her job for now is to educate all board members about the services their agency will offer. Georgas also said she’s going to make sure things remain stable and the board remains efficient, transparent and accountable to the community.
Having a good staff working for her helps, she said.
“As someone who’s been committed to this community for as long as I have, it’s an awesome challenge,” she said. “I know all the staff, have worked with them and every one of them has these little hidden gems of talent within them.”
The board was chosen after several weeks of controversy over its composition and months after Lorain County Commissioners decided to merge the ADAS board and the former Lorain County Board of Mental Health.
Lorain County was the last of Ohio’s counties without a joint board providing and coordinating mental health and addiction recovery services, and Commissioners announced their intent to merge the boards back in March.
By law, the county was to choose 10 members and the state to recommend appointment of eight others. Allegations of politics influencing the choice of board members arose, which Commissioners rejected, and former mental health board executive director Kathleen Kern resigned after calling the selection process “chaotic.”
Concerned the process for choosing the board was not being followed, the mental health board took their case to Cook’s courtroom. At his urging, the parties negotiated and a compromise was reached by which the mental health board received two additional appointments to the joint board.
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