Peninsula Community Health Services recently welcomed a new CEO into the organization — Ben Wright from Duluth, Minnesota. Wright has more than 30 years experience as an administrator for organizations that focus on serving at-risk populations and will be bringing his knack for developing innovative programs to PCHS and the central peninsula.
Most of the organizations run by Wright have focused on treating and caring for individuals with mental health issues or intellectual disabilities. Wright’s passion for working for this population started when he was still in college studying to be a teacher rather than an administrator. In his senior year of undergraduate studies at the University of North Dakota, he was assigned to work at a local mental health facility while also being a student teacher. Wright recalled being a little scared of the prospect, and at the time associated psychiatric hospitals with the one depicted in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”
It didn’t help his apprehension that when he walked in, the staff told him he was now the supervisor and immediately left him alone with all the patients. After about a week of working there, however, he came to love the people he was helping and said he felt guilty for ever being so scared.
“They were just the nicest guys,” Wright said. “When I compared the students I worked with to these guys, I decided I’d much rather work with these guys.”
Wright knew at that point he wanted to focus his career on serving people with mental illness and intellectual disabilities, and he chose the administrative route rather than the medical one because he felt like he could make more of an impact as the person in charge.
“When you’re an administrator of a facility, the only bounds are what you can dream up.”
To that end, Wright has been involved with a number of innovative programs. While executive director of a mental health facility in Texas, Wright had the idea to build a hydroponic greenhouse and teach the patients how to work in the greenhouse. Wright really liked the impact he saw from the greenhouse project and pushed to build several more throughout his career. Wright also helped establish a crisis home while working in Iowa, an idea he said that the peninsula could benefit from in the future. The idea of a crisis home is that if someone with a mental health issue ends up in a hospital or a police station, and they are determined not to be a threat to themselves or others, they can be taken to the crisis home and be given the means to get back on their feet and their own room for up to six weeks.
“In most cases, almost all cases, they ended up going back home. So it was a great transition,” Wright said. The crisis home ended up saving money for the community because it lightened the burden on emergency rooms, police stations and other public resources.
Now that Wright has taken the position of CEO at PCHS, he will be looking to see what kind of innovative practices can be taken on by the organization. Wright is in no rush to shake things up though, and for the immediate future he will be spending his time getting to know the managers, providers, doctors and nurses of PCHS, as well as the community as a whole.
“We need the support of the community in order to advance these different programs,” Wright said. “So we’ll see what the needs are and try to meet them.”
There will be a meet and greet Thursday at the main PCHS location in Soldotna from 5 to 7 p.m. where members of the public can get to know Wright while enjoying refreshments and door prizes.