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Clinical chief on a mission to help

While supervising a department, Mindy Phelps still works with clients dealing with mental illnesses and substance abuse.

By JIM ROSS

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 14, 2001


LECANTO -- Mindy Phelps has quickly climbed the leadership ladder at the Marion-Citrus Mental Health Center, starting as an intern and progressing to full-time employee, supervisor and now clinical director of the Citrus County office.

Not bad for a woman who just received her master's degree from the University of Central Florida in 1999 and didn't assume full-time status at Marion-Citrus until May of that year.

Marion-Citrus, whose local office is on County Road 491 just south of the Lecanto school complex, is a private, non-profit group that provides case management, medication clinic, substance abuse therapy and day treatment for the chronically mentally ill.

Treatment is delivered on an outpatient basis; the agency's inpatient facility, which handles patients who have acute emotional disturbances and need emergency help, is in Ocala.

That center was in the news last month when Seven Rivers Community Hospital announced that it would stop accepting most Baker Act patients, thus leaving Marion-Citrus as the area's primary receiving facility. Phelps noted that the Ocala unit already had been receiving some Citrus patients and was prepared to handle the increase, which so far has been relatively light.

In addition to its other services, the Lecanto office also offers therapy groups for children dealing with anger management and coping skills and a parenting program and group therapy for substance abusers.

Phelps works with a staff of 35, whose teamwork and effort she praises. Although technically an administrator, Phelps still works with clients at least two days each week.

"It's been a challenge, but it's been wonderful," Phelps said.

She earned her bachelor's degree in social work from Saint Leo University in Pasco County and then obtained her master's at UCF. She interned at the Department of Children and Families and a Pasco spouse abuse shelter in addition to Marion-Citrus.

Phelps started her full-time duties at Marion-Citrus in May 1999, serving as a substance abuse therapist for adolescents. It was a new program, one for which she helped secure grant funding.

Phelps went on to supervise the substance abuse department while still taking time to work with clients who have a dual diagnosis of mental illness and substance abuse.

"I'm a social worker all the way through, right to the heart," she said.

When Diane Daniels, a veteran in the mental health field, took a transfer to Ocala in November, Marion-Citrus tapped Phelps to lead the Citrus team.

Phelps just hired three new people and has a fourth hire to go. Clients once had to wait four weeks for an initial interview, known as an intake; now the wait is down to a week and a half.

Marion-Citrus also hopes to expand its Lecanto office and possibly start providing outpatient programs off site.

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