In 1963, John F. Kennedy envisioned a system of care that would allow individuals to seek mental health treatment in their very own communities rather than an institutional setting. With 530,000 Americans living in mental institutions, President Kennedy called for a “bold new approach” to caring for those with mental illness.
President Kennedy requested that Congress enact legislation that would restructure the mental health system to include community-based care. President Kennedy signed Public Law 88-164, which authorized federal funds for the development of community mental health centers.
Local mental health advocate and volunteer, Louise Whitting Fryer, embraced Kennedy’s vision and was the driving force behind establishing mental health services in our community. She inspired Judge William H. Miller, who became Southwestern’s first Board Chairman, and local businessman, Guerin Bernardin, to join her in incorporating Southwestern Indiana Mental Health Center, Inc., a not-for-profit behavioral health care provider, to serve the needs of Southwestern Indiana. These original incorporators secured funding and collaborated with community representatives to establish a foundation for Southwestern to build upon.
As these advocates set the stage for community-based care, two mental health providers were serving the Evansville area. Vanderburgh Child Guidance Center, established in 1948 under the direction of Dr. Lillian G. Moulton, provided services to children and their families in an outpatient setting. Vanderburgh County Adult Outpatient Psychiatric Clinic, established in 1964 under the direction of Dr. John Longstaff, provided services to adults.
These providers merged with Southwestern in order to allow for better coordination of services and better planning for the mental health needs of the community.
By 1970, Southwestern was in its height of development. Southwestern became incorporated, was awarded a construction grant to construct its corporate headquarters, and Robert M. Spear was named as its first chief executive officer, a position he held for 20 years.
Spear played an important role in transitioning mental health care from an institutional setting to a community setting at both the local and state level. Spear’s early tasks included constructing Southwestern’s headquarters, securing a staffing grant, assembling a team of professionals to serve patients, and establishing a strong board of directors to provide guidance.
In 1971, Southwestern opened its headquarters. With breakthroughs in psychiatric medication and treatment, along with Kennedy’s establishment of community mental health centers, thousands of individuals were afforded the opportunity to return home to their families and begin learning skills they needed to live independently in the community.
Southwestern experienced rapid growth due to the need for expanding mental health services in the community. By 1979, Southwestern was serving 7,400 patients.
During this growth, two medical directors led Southwestern: Dr. John Longstaff, who served from 1971 to 1974, and Dr. Eugene Mittleman, who served from 1974 to 1979, both had knowledge and insight into the needs of the community and guided Southwestern in its expansion.
In the 1980s, Southwestern continued to build on its history of meeting the needs of the community by providing the highest quality of services. New services emerged to minimize hospitalization including residential programs, homeless services, crisis intervention services, and case management. New medications continued to be introduced, revolutionizing treatment of mental illness.
In 1983, Southwestern established a Foundation with a purpose of supporting its programs and expansions in order to provide more individuals the opportunity to obtain treatment.
In 1987, Southwestern became accredited by The Joint Commission meeting nearly 2,000 quality standards. In 1987, the Foundation began to experience its own growth by assuming the operation of Hillcrest Washington Youth Home, a residential treatment facility for children ages six to 18. During this same time Southwestern opened its second group home, completed construction of Stepping Stone, an addiction treatment facility and constructed an outpatient office on Evansville’s East Side, Stockwell Center.
Leadership of Southwestern changed in 1989 when Robert M. Spear retired and John K. Browning assumed the role of President/CEO of the organization.
With the development of atypical antipsychotic medications in the 1990’s, patients began having fewer side effects and better clinical responses. Services focused on rehabilitation for many patients who came to live more independently. Southwestern strived to treat patients in an outpatient setting whenever possible to minimize disruption to family life. Treatment began when the patient and the therapist identified the issue and a treatment plan was developed which included a blend of individual, group, and family therapy, all under the supervision of a psychiatrist.
With the demand for mental health services steadily growing each year, Southwestern focused resources on remodeling its current facilities and building new structures to house services.
From 1990 to 1998 Southwestern constructed Warrick Regional Services in Boonville to serve patients in Warrick County; and Chestnut, Chandler and Buena Vista Group Homes to house 30 patients in the community. Plans for a fourth group home, Michigan Home, were finalized during this time. Moulton Center, Southwestern’s West Side location, was remodeled to better serve its patients, and Southwestern relocated the Youth Day Treatment program, which serves elementary-aged school children, to the campus of Hillcrest Washington Youth Home.
Today, with over 200 employees, Southwestern operates in 14 locations in Gibson, Posey, Vanderburgh and Warrick Counties, and, annually, over 9,500 individuals receive services.
Our commitment to provide a wide range of programs and services to meet the mental health needs of our communities has not changed. As our organization has grown over the years, our scope of services has broadened as well. Southwestern has evolved into more than just a mental health center, rather a behavioral healthcare system for our communities.
In 2008, the leaders of Southwestern announced a reorganization of its corporate structure. Southwestern Indiana Mental Health Center, Inc., as it was known for 38 years, changed its corporate name to Southwestern Behavioral Healthcare, Inc. to better reflect the services offered.
Just as President John F. Kennedy responded to the need for mental health services in our community, so did the leaders of Southwestern. Reorganizing the corporate structure will provide stability to our affiliates and ensure that our mission and the vision of our original incorporators is fulfilled for years to come.