New Riverbend CEO Peter Evers: Crises bring opportunities for change
Peter Evers, far left, new CEO of Riverbend Community Mental Health, meets Ken Braiterman, one of the recipients of this year's Rainbow award during the annual Riverbend Rainbow Awards event held at the Grappone Conference Center on Wednesday, October 9, 2013.
(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)
Peter Evers was named the new CEO of Riverbend Community Mental Health. He posed for a portrait at the Concord offices on Wednesday, October 9, 2013.
(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)
The mental health care system is “ripe for recovery,” said Peter Evers, the new CEO of Riverbend Community Mental Health Center.
But recovery, like the process of ripening, often leads to fundamental changes, and what mental health care looks like after the recent recession may be very different than what it looked like previously.
“It’s been a horrible time since 2008, everywhere. Sadly, services to those who are most vulnerable often are the most vulnerable when cuts come along. I’m not going to make a political statement about that. That just happens to be the case,” said Evers, who was most recently vice president for program operations at The Home for Little Wanderers in Boston.
“Out of that crisis, however, there’s the opportunity for change and to look at how systems work and are there different ways of providing services that aren’t so expensive but have efficacy,” he said.
“For example, this last malaise that we’ve been in has coincided, not coincidently, with the rise of peer specialists, of the peer movement, of people in recovery and with lived experience, taking control of their treatment, . . . treatment that looks at empowering people in their own recovery and finding their own ways out of their illnesses and their diseases.
“I think that would have happened anyway, but I think the impetus for that was lack of funding. So I’m optimistic because I know that from any crisis situation, you’re going to have some opportunity to look at things differently.”
Evers starts his job Monday, but he’s already in his office, taking calls and meetings. He was the selection of a search committee that started its work in April, when Louis Josephson announced he’d be leaving the post after eight years.
More than 30 people applied for the position and after interviewing eight, the committee narrowed the field eventually to three finalists. The finalists each came to Concord for a two-day interview, where they met multiple stakeholder groups.
The event was “one of the more rigorous things I’ve ever been through, as far as interviews go,” Evers said.
Driving home to Marblehead, Mass., after the second day, he found he had lost his voice from talking so much.
What he said was impressive, but so was how he interacted with staff, clients and other stakeholders who attended the open presentations, board members said.
“We were looking for the obvious things: an appropriate education; clinical, hands-on experience; executive and managerial experience,” said Valerie Acres, chairwoman of Riverbend’s board of directors.
“Peter’s resume alone displays all of those obvious things, but on top of that we were really looking for someone who would be passionate about continuing Riverbend’s role in advocacy, and personally, I was looking for a sense of genuine compassion, toward our staff and the consumers that we serve.”
During the extended public interview, she could feel “a positive energy” building among staff and clients as they spoke with Evers, she said.
Riverbend serves nearly 8,000 children, families and adults annually. It employs 280 people and operates with a budget of almost $22 million. The CEO of Riverbend also serves as vice president for behavioral health at Concord Hospital.
Before his work at The Home for Little Wanderers, Evers was the southeastern area director at the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health, overseeing mental health services at three hospitals and seven community-based mental health centers.
While there, he worked on the draw-down of resources at the state hospital in Taunton. The 159-year-old facility has gone from 2,500 beds in 1972 to 182 in 2007 and 45 today, Evers said.
The transition meant building up community mental health resources, ensuring adequate capacity at a new facility in Worcester and not suddenly closing the facility to leave all 700 employees without work, Evers said.
He said he enjoyed advocating for the program and facility, and working with the media and the state government. Those are all skills board members said they know are expected of the leader of the community mental health center in the state capital.
They also hoped their next CEO would have recent clinical experience.
“We wanted someone who remembers very clearly what it’s like working with those who are our clients, the unique challenges they experience every day and the challenges our staff face,” said Ron Magoon, past chairman of the board and co-chairman of the search committee.
Until last year, Evers also worked triage for a psychiatric crisis unit, evaluating and making decisions about treatment for people in urgent distress.
“I love it. . . . You get to see people at their most vulnerable and often at their most strong,” he said. “People, if they’re allowed to, find their own way out of their own situation for the most part. And if you can be a part of that process and watch people make good decisions for themselves, it’s very life-affirming.
“I don’t think I’m a tremendous therapist, but I’m a good problem solver. Being a crisis clinician is all about problem solving. It’s finding a situation that is of danger, ameliorating those dangers and finding a solution,” he said.
Magoon said he’s confident that whatever Riverbend might face in the future, Evers can use those same skills.
“With the cutbacks that we’ve seen, with the stigma attached to the people we serve, you need someone with a vision to lead, to anticipate what problems might lie ahead and plan in case they do occur,” Magoon said.
“There is a bit of a transition that’s happening. You have to be very aware and willing to set aside the way you’ve done things, because you’re looking for ways to deliver services in maybe a completely different way with a completely different model. I get the sense that he looks at things that way, that he isn’t really stuck on what works best in the past, but what will work in the future.”
(Sarah Palermo can be reached at 369-3322 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @SPalermoNews.)