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.

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Saltzer, Bruce

Interviewed by: Howard Padwa

Bruce Saltzer received his law degree from USC and an MBA from the Claremont Graduate School.  He began his career in Legal Aid and worked as an advocate for the developmentally disabled.  In 1991, he was appointed Executive Director of the Association of Community Mental Health Agencies, and continued in this position when the organization was merged with the Association of Human Services Agencies.  He played a major role in writing and working for the passage of the Mental Health Services Act, as well as earlier significant mental health legislation.

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Schraiber, Ronald

Interviewed by: Howard Padwa and Marcia Meldrum

Ron Schraiber is a longtime consumer activist leader in California.  He had his initial encounter with the mental health system as a graduate student at UC Irvine, followed by experiences in several different cities.  He began reading Thomas Szasz’ work, which appealed to him, and founded a client group which he named CAPABLE – Citizens Against Psychiatric Abuse and Bureaucratic Legal Entanglements.  Later he worked as a client advocate in Contra Costa County.  In 1983, he participated in the founding of the California Network of Mental Health Clients, and in 1986, co-wrote (with psychologist Jean Campbell) the research proposal for The Well-Being Project, a major survey of client needs conducted by the Network under contract from the State Department of Mental Health, and co-directed the Project through the publication of the final report, In Pursuit of Wellness, in 1989.  Schraiber moved to Southern California in 1986, where he worked as a consumer advocate at LAMP on LA’s Skid Row and at Metro State Hospital before joining the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health as Director of Consumer Affairs in 1995.  He was noted for his vigorous and articulate statements about mental health client rights at meetings and in public venues.  As of 2010, he is Director of the Office of Policy and Research with DMH’s Empowerment and Advocacy Division.

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Selix, Rusty

Interviewed by: Howard Padwa

Rusty Selix, J.D., has been one of the most important advocates for increased funding and innovation in the California mental health system in recent years.  He attended Northwestern University and earned his law degree at the University of California at Davis, before becoming a policy advocate. After working as the deputy city attorney for the City of Sacramento, he became a lobbyist for the League of Cities, an experience which gave him intimate knowledge of the complex relationships between local and state governments. In the 1980s, he began working as an advocate for the mental health system, and he now serves as the Executive Director of the California Council of Community Mental Health Agencies and Mental Health America of California. Among his many accomplishments in the mental health field, Selix played a key role in the creation of the AB 34 and AB 2034 programs, and he wrote 2004’s Proposition 63, which created the Mental Health Services Act. 

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Sheehe, John

Interviewed by: Marcia Meldrum

John Sheehe is the Co-Occurring Disorders System-wide Coordinator for LAC-DMH, part of the Office of the Medical Director.  He earned his BA at San Francisco State and spent several years in the airline industry before returning to school to become certified as a Chemical Dependency Counselor and then to complete a Master's in Social Work at UCLA, where he graduated in 1995.  During his first assignments in this field, he began to realize the extent of the problem of dual diagnosis.  In 1999, he became the COD Coordinator in Service Area 5, and assumed his present position in 2006.  He was instrumental in beginning system-wide trainings in COD treatment for DMH clinicians.

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Sheppard, Gloria

Interviewed by: Jinah Kim

Gloria Sheppard is Mental Health Clinical Program Head at the American Indian Counseling Center in Cerritos, California.

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Sofro, Victoria

Interviewed by: Kevin Miller

Victoria Sofro grew up in Northern California and attended USC School of Social Work, where she was certified in psychosocial rehab counseling.  She had her first exposure to people with mental illness in her early twenties through taking care of a family member.  She later worked as an art therapist for a group called the Friendship Club, now called Project Return Peer Support Network, that met at the YWCA, and then in the day treatment program at Verdugo Mental Health Center.  She was elected to the Verdugo MHC Board and served as chairperson; this work brought her into contact with the LA County Department of Health Services (DHS) in the 1970s, when the Department of Mental Health (LAC-DMH) was part of DHS.  Ms. Sofro was then appointed by Fifth District Supervisor Baxter Ward to the County Mental Health Commission, which played a crucial role in advocating for the separation of LAC-DMH from DHS.  She was subsequently appointed by Ward’s successor, Michael Antonovich, and has continued to serve on the Commission to the time of the interview in 2010.   During her long tenure as a Commissioner, she has been a leading advocate for improved Employment and Education Services and played an integral role in selecting LAC-DMH Directors Roberto Quiroz, Areta Crowell, and Dr. Marvin Southard.  In addition, she helped to advocate for the passage of Proposition 63 in 2004 and the Mental Health Services Act.  Ms. Sofro also belongs to the National Alliance on Mental Illness and its California chapter.

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Southard, Marvin

Interviewed by: Marcia Meldrum

Marvin Southard earned his MSW at UC Berkeley and his DSW at UCLA.  He served as Director of Clinical Services at El Centro Human Services Corporation in East LA for seven years and as Director of Mental Health in Kern County for five years, prior to being appointed Director of the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health in 1998.  As Director, he faced the challenges of implementing the Mental Health Services Act, overseeing a multi-participant planning process and the transformation of the County-operated clinics.  Dr. Southard leads the largest public mental health system in the country, serving over 200,000 clients annually in one of the most ethnically diverse counties in the nation, with a budget of over $1 billion. Dr. Southard has been recognized for his dedication and leadership with the 2008 National Network for Social Work Managers Exemplar Award for outstanding achievement and the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) 2003 Award for Excellence in Community Mental Health Services, in recognition of ongoing efforts to building a comprehensive community care mental health system in Los Angeles County, among many other awards. 

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Steinberg, Darrell

Interviewed by: Howard Padwa

Darrell Steinberg has been the President pro Tempore of the California State Senate since 2008. Steinberg worked as an employee rights attorney for the California State Employees Association, an Administrative Law Judget, and a mediator before beginning his career in public service by serving on the Sacramento City Council from 1992 to 1998.  Steinberg served in the California State Assembly from 1998 to 2004, and during his time there, became a champion for some of the most important mental health legislation in California's history. His 1999 Assembly Bill 34 created new programs to serve homeless individuals with chronic and severe mental illness. In 2004, voters approved Steinberg's Proposition 63 - the Mental Health Services Act - which now generates over $1 billiion per year in state and federal funds for community-based mental health programs.

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Sylvann, Brook

Interviewed by: Diane DeMartino

Brook Sylvann, a theater, film and television actor and comedy host, leads the Improv Comedy Group at Edelman Mental Health Center.

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Taylor, Harry

Interviewed by: Diane DeMartino

Harry Taylor, PhD, is the Clinical Program Head at Palmdale Mental Health Center in the Antelope Valley.

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Thomas, Sandra

Interviewed by: Marcia Meldrum

Sandra Thomas earned her Masters in Social Work from UCLA in 1977 and began her professional career at MacLaren Children's Center in 1978, where she set up the first play therapy program.  Her interest and focus on children and families continued through increasingly responsibsle positions Compton Mental Health Center in South LA, as Child Abuse Services Coordinator at LACDMH headquarters and as Supervising PSW at Hobart Manor, a residential program affiliated with Augustus Hawkins Comprehensive Mental Health Center.  Ms. Thomas returned to Compton as Program Head in 1991 and served in that role until 1999, when she was appointed District Chief of Children's programs in SA 6.  In 2004, she became head of the new DMH Child Welfare Division and developed the Countywide Specialized Mental Health Services Program under the County's Katie A. settlement agreement.  In 2007, she was named Deputy Director (having served as Acting Deputy Director since 2006), of the new Specialized Children and Youth Services Bureau, encompassing both Child Welfare and Juvenile Justice Programs, and also took on full oversight of SA 6.

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Tillman, Dion

Interviewed by: Diane DeMartino

Dion Tillman is a certified substance abuse counselor at LACDMH Palmdale Mental Health Center.

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