Community partners, search committee members: New CEO obvious choice to carry on Bert Nash Center tradition

"I feel very fortunate to be joining such a highly respected organization," said new Bert Nash Center CEO Patrick Schmitz.

"I feel very fortunate to be joining such a highly respected organization," said new Bert Nash Center CEO Patrick Schmitz. by Jeff Burkhead

Patrick Schmitz knows he is joining some select company.

Schmitz, 51, will become just the third CEO of the Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center in nearly 40 years. He will succeed David Johnson, who is in his 17th year as CEO of the Bert Nash Center and is retiring the first of July. Johnson’s predecessor, Sandra Shaw, was CEO of the Center for more than 20 years.

“I’m very excited,” Schmitz said. “The more I went through the process, and the more I found out about Bert Nash, Douglas County and the Lawrence community, the more impressed I became. I feel very fortunate to be joining such a highly respected organization.”

Schmitz, who is originally from Minnesota, will begin his new duties June 5. Since 2004, Schmitz has been CEO of the Plains Area Mental Health Center based in Le Mars, Iowa.

“He truly believes Bert Nash is the best job in the country,” said Shirley Martin-Smith, franchise owner of Adecco offices in Lawrence, Topeka and Wichita, who served as chairwoman of the search committee. Martin-Smith announced the hiring of Schmitz as the new CEO at Monday's annual Bert Nash Pioneer Celebration.

Martin-Smith, who also chaired the search committee when Johnson was hired, said, “I know Patrick’s decision was based in part on meeting so many people from the community who were part of this process.”

Besides Martin-Smith, other members of the search committee were Brad Burnside, US Bank market president and incoming Bert Nash Governing Board chairman; Jane Fevurly, current Governing Board chairwoman; Johnson, current Bert Nash CEO; Kyle Kessler, executive director, Association of Community Mental Health Centers of Kansas; Reggie Robinson, director and professor, School of Public Affairs and Administration, the University of Kansas; Elizabeth Sheils, Bert Nash client and Governing Board member; Dolph Simons Jr., chairman of The World Company; and Judy Wright, Bert Nash Endowment Board chairwoman.

Robinson thanked Martin-Smith for her leadership throughout the search process, adding, “The best and most important piece of all of this, of course, is that the Bert Nash Center Board has, I think, selected the right candidate to serve as BNC’s next CEO.”

“I was impressed by the depth and quality of knowledge and experience that Patrick presented through his candidacy for this vitally important organizational and community leadership role. He not only presents a thorough understanding about the business of mental health care delivery, he also understands the community dimensions of doing that work in a place like Lawrence and an organization like Bert Nash,” Robinson said. “As we considered the strong field of candidates in the running for this position, it was clear that Patrick possessed a keen grasp of the opportunities and challenges currently confronting the Center and our community, and that he is particularly well-suited to build on the remarkable legacy that David Johnson’s leadership has produced for us.” 

Search committee member Simons said while Schmitz will have big shoes to fill, he was the obvious choice to carry on the tradition of the Bert Nash Center.

“Bert Nash has enjoyed tremendous growth during the 16 years of leadership and vision provided by David Johnson … growth in the numbers of those using Bert Nash services and growth in the national recognition of the excellence of Bert Nash services,” Simons said. “Lawrence and Bert Nash are fortunate to have Patrick Schmitz assuming the leadership position to sustain the growth and excellence achieved during Johnson's leadership. After studying the backgrounds and careers of a number of applicants, along with personal interviews, search committee members were unanimous in their enthusiastic recommendation of Schmitz to become the next leader of Bert Nash.”

Schmitz has compiled a top flight record in Iowa, where he is highly respected by leaders in the mental illness field, said Simons, who also noted how impressed local leaders were with the CEO candidate.

“He received excellent marks from local city and county officials with whom he visited,” Simons said.

One of those local officials Schmitz met with during a visit to Lawrence was Craig Weinaug, Douglas County administrator.

“I’m really excited about the selection of Patrick as the next CEO at the Bert Nash Center,” Weinaug said. “He will have very tough shoes to fill as we work together to build on the accomplishments of Bert Nash under the leadership of Dave Johnson. Of all the candidates, Patrick had the best experience in collaborating with numerous community partners and governments to constantly improve the level of mental health services for all of our citizens, regardless of their incomes. He’s a really great choice.”

Community partners, including Lawrence Memorial Hospital CEO Russ Johnson, were part of the interview process for a new Bert Nash CEO.

“We were so pleased to be included in the process Bert Nash went through for this important recruitment,” the hospital CEO said. “The process was very well managed and we were able to provide our perspective with the search consultant, leadership and then with the candidates. That was a huge signal about the intent to collaborate with us and it meant a lot. I appreciate Shirley’s excellent leadership and communication with us throughout the process.”

Russ Johnson is fairly new to the community as well. He was hired as CEO at Lawrence Memorial Hospital last April and has been on the job since August. He said he is excited to continue the collaborative relationship between the Bert Nash Center and Lawrence Memorial Hospital.

“I have only had the opportunity to work with Dave for eight months, but I recall from our first meeting being impressed with the breadth and depth of Dave’s knowledge in behavioral/mental health and even more so in his commitment and heart for it. Even though he is a recognized leader in this field, he remained open to a broad dialog about how our two organizations could work together. He is a genuine colleague after only a short period of time,” Russ Johnson said. “My team is really excited about working with Patrick as the new CEO of Bert Nash. During my conversation with him, it was clear that he is creative, collaborative and focused on how best to serve the community’s mental health needs. He had very relevant experience about working with other communities, providers and social service organizations to enhance services. There is a tremendous opportunity for Bert Nash, LMH and others to create a collaborative, integrated model for health care services. I look forward to working with Patrick on that.”

Schmitz said the Bert Nash Center’s community partnerships was one of the things that most attracted him to the CEO position.

“When I came to that first interview and saw the variety of people in that room, many of them who are not on the Governing or Endowment boards, but they are just concerned about and support Bert Nash,” Schmitz said. “That impressed me to see that kind of community support. As we progressed through the process, more and more I got the sense of how important this organization is to the community. That’s very exciting to see. As a CEO, you want that kind of support and level of involvement. That’s another reason I feel very fortunate to be selected.”

Schmitz and his wife, Sheryl, who is a teacher, have two daughters. Kara, 17, who will be a senior in high school. The couple's older daughter, Kat, lives in Detroit with her fiancée and 1-year-old son.

While Schmitz didn’t know much about Lawrence before he started the interview process, he did know at least one thing.

“I did know what a Jayhawk was,” the new Bert Nash CEO said, adding he is now a fan. “I didn’t have a specific team I was affiliated with, so I’m an easy convert.”

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