Mental Health's Down retiring

Sean Janssen, The Union Democrat

Calaveras County Behavioral Health Services Director Rita Downs will retire in late January.

Downs, 68, announced her retirement just as County Administrative Officer Jeanne Boyce, 57, her former immediate supervisor as Health Services Agency director, said she will be stepping down as of Dec. 30.

Like Boyce, Downs said, a desire to travel and spend more time with grandchildren played an important role in the decision.

Downs has spent eight years with the county in the director's role, coming over from San Bernardino County's behavioral health department, where she spent seven years in a managerial role. Her prior experience includes time in the mental health and substance abuse treatment fields in rural areas of Oregon, Washington and Vermont, she said.

Visiting friends in the Pacific Northwest will come soon after retirement, Downs said, as well as "Hawaii … up there at the top as always."

Downs, an Amador County resident who will be relocating to Sacramento, said during her employ with Calaveras County, she is proudest of "shepherding the Mental Health Services Act funding into some great projects."

That includes development of "systems of care" that provide intensive services to clients and their families, she said.

"We've been able to reduce hospitalization time, which means people are doing better if they're not needing to go to the hospital," Downs said.

A small wellness center was set up on her watch and transportation services made more available to clients, she said.

"It's hard for people in this county to get to doctors' appointments and groups and that sort of thing," she said. "We now have a very committed group of drivers."

Startups for programs like suicide prevention, family counseling and support groups have also been successful, Downs said.

"I'm really going to miss my staff. I couldn't do it without them. They make the job a lot easier," she said. "I have loved this community. There's always an activity, always a fundraiser every single weekend … people here are not passive, they're very engaged and I appreciate that."

Duties of the Behavioral Health Services director were expanded last year when state Assembly Bill 109 took effect. The bill created a Community Corrections Partnership that includes the director alongside a half-dozen law enforcement leaders on a panel that determines the county's plan for handling those released from state prisons who previously underwent parole supervision.

The county is in the midst of a significant changing of the guard at its highest levels. In addition to Downs and Boyce's departures, a majority of seats on the Board of Supervisors will be filled with newcomers in January as newly elected Cliff Edson, Debbie Ponte and Chris Wright come on board. Supervisor Steve Wilensky retired while supervisors Gary Tofanelli and Tom Tryon were defeated at the polls.

Two years ago, a similar shake-up occurred with the county's elected sheriff, clerk/recorder, treasurer and auditor each retired and did not seek re-election.

The Union Democrat
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