A career spent being at the forefront of mental health issues

Harriet Hall retires from Jefferson Center for Mental Health after 37 years of service

Posted 7/2/18

When Harriet Hall says something needs attention, people listen. “She is bright, compassionate, inventive, practical and focused on what is right,” said Bob Dyer, the Chief Executive Officer at …

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A career spent being at the forefront of mental health issues

Harriet Hall retires from Jefferson Center for Mental Health after 37 years of service

Posted

When Harriet Hall says something needs attention, people listen.

“She is bright, compassionate, inventive, practical and focused on what is right,” said Bob Dyer, the Chief Executive Officer at Foothills Behavioral Health Partners. “She is an inventive do-er. A community leader in the best manner.”

Hall, 70, will be retiring as the CEO and president of the Jefferson Center for Mental Health on July 18 but will take on a part-time role with the center — she will continue to do some consulting work based on need and will stay involved with partnership efforts with other nearby mental health centers.

“I’m still incredibly invested,” Hall said. “If I had the energy to keep doing it, I would. But it’s time for me to slow down.”

Hall’s career with the Jefferson Center began in 1981 as the associate director. She became CEO and president in 1984. Kiara Kuenzler, the organization’s chief operating officer, will be taking over Hall’s position.

“There’s a lot more to be accomplished,” Hall said. “It’s a time of change for behavioral health and the healthcare system, overall.”

While Hall said she will miss being a big part of those changes, she added that Kuenzler is the right person for the job, describing her as “very sharp, organized, energetic, strategic and forward-thinking.”

In its 60th year, the Jefferson Center for Mental Health is a not-for-profit organization that has become the community’s go-to resource to support individuals and families struggling with mental health issues and substance use disorders. It offers a variety of programs and comprehensive services for people of all ages, serving Jefferson, Clear Creek and Gilpin counties.

Hall “is a true visionary with an unwavering commitment to improve lives and the health of our community,” said Jeanne Oliver, the Jefferson Center’s vice president of marketing and development who has worked with Hall for nearly 30 years. “It is her passion and fierce determination that inspires all to strive for creative, fresh approaches to complex issues.”

State Rep. Tracy Kraft-Tharp, D-Arvada and Westminster, agrees. The two have known each other since 1988 when Kraft-Tharp worked with adolescents at Family Tree.

“She has always been on the cutting edge of mental health issues,” Kraft-Tharp said. “Her focus has always been making sure we have a mental health system that meets the needs of the community. She is absolutely dedicated to that.”

Throughout her career, Hall has worked to reduce the stigma of mental illness, created community partnerships, implemented innovative programs and made sure mental health resources were available to all who needed them — even when faced with state budget cuts and the recession.

Hall “didn’t just change a system,” said Lynn Johnson, the executive director for Jefferson County Human Services. “She changed a culture one step at a time. She knows it’s bigger than her and she worked as part of a team.”

She has the ability to see the big picture, Johnson said, while “zooming in to look into the faces of those she serves. She never forgets who she serves.”

Many people point to Hall’s response to the Columbine High School shooting in 1999 as one of her many career highlights. She was instrumental in implementing Columbine Connections, a system that provided mental health counseling, an assistance center and a teen program called Students Helping Others Unite Together Socially (SHOUTS).

“It wasn’t just the students at Columbine” who needed resources to help overcome the tragedy, Hall said. “It was everyone from their siblings at the elementary schools to the aunts and uncles living in another county.”

Hall was born in southern California and because her father was a minister, the family moved around quite a bit. She graduated high school in Pennsylvania and even back then knew she wanted to work children and family systems, she said.

“Understanding the problems and finding solutions was always appealing to me,” Hall said.

She earned a bachelor of arts from The College of Wooster in Ohio, and both her masters and Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Hall moved to Colorado in 1973 and has lived in Arvada since 1988. Between she and her husband Geoff Bruce of 24 years, the two have five children and 13 grandchildren spread across the U.S. and England. Her post-retirement plans include a trip to Alaska and a master gardener class.

Hall also plans on getting more involved in her local Arvada community, she said.

State Senator. Rachel Zenzinger, D-Arvada, notes that Hall has “always been an engaged citizen” in addition to a “fierce advocate at the capitol for mental health issues.”

For the past few years, Zenzinger said, the state legislature has been addressing the issue of funding for mental health.

Hall “has been at the forefront of getting it recognized as a healthcare need, central to healthcare overall,” Zenzinger said. “She has a real passion.”

The bottom line is serving the people in the community, Hall said. “We value people.”

And as far as her career in mental health is concerned, Colorado is a great state to work, she said. It’s big enough to be able to make creative change, but small enough to make a state-wide impact, Hall said.

“I’ve really enjoyed seeing the impact of the services and programs that we’ve built in the community. It’s changing people’s lives and making their lives better,” Hall said. “And that feels good.”

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