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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Van Horn, Richard

Interviewed by: Marcia Meldrum and Amanda Nelligan

The Rev. Richard Van Horn was Chief Executive Officer of Mental Health America in Los Angeles from 1980 through 2009.  (From 1980 through 2006, the organization name was the Mental Health Association). He graduated from Harvard in 1961 and earned a Master in Divinity from the General Theological Seminary of New York in 1965. Ordained as an Episcopal priest and assigned to the Diocese of Los Angeles, he took an extended leave from the Church in 1980 to pursue his work with MHA. He became an active force in Mental Health Services in Los Angeles, presiding over the creation of the Village, the first Integrated Service Agency, and playing an important role in the passage of the Mental Health Services Act of 2005 (Prop 63). Although Van Horn stepped down from his post as CEO of MHA in 2010, he continued to serve on the MHSA Oversight and Accountability Commission and on other important boards and task forces. 

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Warner, Cathy

Interviewed by: Marcia Meldrum

Cathy Warner was named Deputy Director of the Adult System of Care for the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health (LACDMH) in 2008.  Ms. Warner earned her Masters' in Social Work from San Diego State and undertook diverse responsibilities during her career at DMH, running programs for adults with HIV and serving as the Program Head at Rio Hondo, Long Beach, and South Bay Mental Health Centers, as Deputy Director for Older Adult Systems of Care, and from 2006, as Clinical District Chief for Service Area 8.  As Deputy Director for ASOC, she has played a key role in completing the MHSA transformation of the directly-operated clinics.

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Weisburd, Dan

Interviewed by: Howard Padwa and Kevin Miller

Dan E. Weisburd is a distinguished writer, producer, director, story editor, publisher, and corporate executive who has worked for over 50 years in the motion picture, television, and educational media industries. In 1980, Dan’s eldest son David was diagnosed with schizophrenia while attending Harvard University. Frustrated by the difficulty of getting quality care for David, Weisburd became one of the California mental health community’s most vocal advocates. He has served as the president of the California Alliance for the Mentally Ill (CAMI), published CAMI’s main publication, The Journal, and created programs to train law enforcement on how to work with individuals suffering from mental health problems. Weisburd served as Chairman for Lieutenant Governor Leo McCarthy’s Task Force for the Seriously Mentally Ill, which led to the passage of AB 3777 and the creation of Integrated Service Agencies in California. 

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Wengerd, Jerry

Interviewed by: Marcia Meldrum

Jerry Wengerd first worked in a psychiatric hospital as a conscientious objector and found his true calling there.  He earned his master's degree summa cum laude from California State University Fresno in 1975.  Wengerd served as Director of Mental Health in Mariposa County (1980-88) and in Fresno County (1988-2005), where he was also Director of children's behavioral health services.  He came to Riverside County in 2005, and has worked to implement a recovery-oriented focus under MHSA and to improve housing options.

 

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Wilbur, Suzane

Interviewed by: Marcia Meldrum

Suzane Wilbur received her master's degree in nursing in 1983 and led mental health crisis units at Metropolitan State Hospital, at the Skid Row Mental Health Center (now Downtown Mental Health Center), and at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center.  In 1991, she worked with Dr. J.R. Elpers and the South Bay Chapter of NAMI to set up the AMI-ABLE Program, an ISA model program that she ran until 2000.  Subsequently, she developed the DMH Indigent Medications Program, the Urgent Care Center at Augustus Hawkins, and the DMH Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Program.  She retired from County service in 2010 but continues to work part-time as a Clinical Psychiatric Nurse-Specialist.

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Williams, Stacy

Interviewed by: Jinah Kim

Stacy Williams is a nurse with a Master's in Health Administration.  She finished her graduate degree just as the DMH clinics were beginning to transform under MHSA, which she saw as an exciting opportunity.  After serving as head of Crisis Resolution at Downtown Mental Health Center, and later of the Wellness and CalWORKS programs there, she moved to the Department of Health Services in 2012.

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Wong, Lisa

Interviewed by: Helen Kumari

Lisa Wong originally planned to become a physician but became fascinated by psychology in medical school and instead chose a career in social work.  During twenty-three years at Downtown Mental Health Center, she saw many change in the Skid Row area.  At the time of the interview, she was Clinical Program Head for the Wellness, CalWorks, and PEI programs; in 2012, she became LACDMH District Chief in Service Area 2.

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