Oral Histories

Clients, families, social workers, advocates, psychologists, psychiatrists, and DMH staff are all part of the fabric of the story of mental health in California and in LA County and how it has been transformed over the years. Each person brings a unique life story and perspective, but all are committed to making life better for those who suffer from mental illness. Here are some of their personal stories.



Demming Lurie, Barbara

Interviewed by: Troy Gabrielson

A Phi Beta Kappa, summa cum laude honors graduate of Ohio State University, Barbara Demming Lurie continued her graduate studies in clinical psychology at the University of Wisconsin.  She spent the next two decades heading the Patients’ Rights Bureau for LAC-DMH on weekdays and on weekends, penning a restaurant review column for a daily Los Angeles newspaper.  Her work, while at the Department, to help craft and pass legislation protecting  rights of mental health clients and other efforts on their behalf earned her "Lifetime Achievement" and "Advocate of the Century" Awards from the California Association of Mental Health Patients' Rights Advocates (CAMHPRA) and a picture in Newsweek Magazine.  After she left the Department, she became Director of Programs and Research for the Entertainment Industries Council, Inc.  She was then asked to head the Mental Health Media Partnership, a nonprofit organization sponsored by USC and the University of Pennsylvania, to work with the entertainment industry, promoting understanding of mental health issues. Besides her current position as a consultant working on issues related to mental health and the media, she is Assistant Director of the Integrated Behavioral Health Project (IBHP), an initiative of the California Endowment and the Tides Center.


Douglas, Wendy

Interviewed by: Diane DeMartino

Wendy Douglas, LCSW, is a social worker at Edelman Mental Health Center in West Los Angeles.



Elpers, J.R.

Interviewed by: Howard Padwa

Dr. J. R. Elpers was Director of the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health 1978-84.  He received his medical degree from Indiana University and completed his residency in psychiatry at Columbia-Presbyterian in New York. After working as Deputy Director of Mental Health in Orange County, he was appointed Director of the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health in 1978, just as the Department was "de-merged" from Health Services. During his tenure, Dr. Elpers laid the foundations for the organizational structure of today's DMH, oversaw the initial development of Project Return, and participated in the development of the California Model plan for mental health.  After leaving LAC-DMH, Dr. Elpers set up an Integrated Service Agency model program at Harbor-UCLA, called “AMI-Able,” with NAMI support.  He also served on the boards of Mental Health America and the California Institute for Mental Health.


Encinas, Dolores

Interviewed by: Troy Gabrielson

Dolores Encinas grew up in Missouri, later moving to Iowa and then to Los Angeles.  She became involved with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) when her sons became ill.  Ms. Encinas helped organize NAMI East San Gabriel Valley, and she served as President of the group.  During this time, she developed educational panels that presented for mental health conferences, colleges, law enforcement agencies, and clinicians.  Ms. Encinas also sat on the Boards of Directors of NAMI California and NAMI National, and she spent many years on the Board of Pacific Clinics.