AURORA | Aurora Mental Health’s longtime executive director Randy Stith says he will step down from the position he’s been in for 40 years.
Stith, who first took up the leadership role at Aurora Mental Health in 1978, announced to the organization’s board of directors last month that he will retire at the end of June. He said his resignation was bittersweet and a recognition that Aurora Mental Health needs a leader who has the energy and stamina to lead the state’s third-largest provider of mental health services.
“What inspired it more than anything is stamina. Healthcare is going through the most dramatic changes since the mid 1970s,” Stith said. “My conclusion was the stamina this center needs from its director, I can’t quite give that anymore. I just don’t have the physical capability of doing 60 hour weeks, week in and week out like I did. That’s what it’s going to need for the next couple of years, that real high-energy and attention to all the changes (in the healthcare field) to make this center continue to be on the cutting edge.”
Stith’s retirement is well deserved but his absence not only at the center but in the community and in the state will be felt immediately, said Aurora Mayor Steve Hogan.
“He’s going to be a tough guy to replace. It’s not just his impact on programs and in the city, it’s his impact on the way Colorado does or doesn’t do things,” Hogan said. “He’s a recognized state leader. He’s an innovator, he’s a problem solver and he’s somebody who says, let’s figure out how to get this done as opposed to someone who says this will be hard to do. Those kind of people are few and far between.”
From changes in the city, to Aurora Mental Health serving Aurora through the aftermath of the theater shootings in 2012, Hogan said Stith has been an invaluable partner. Stith and Aurora Mental Health offered free counseling to anyone in the city who was impacted by the shooting, Hogan said.
“That was the hardest single year of my career and the hardest single week of my career as a psychologist. You watch this city you love going through such pain, so many people including your staff, clients directly impacted,” Stith said. “We…were convinced that we will be OK. That we will help these families and the part of this community that’s hurting and we will be OK. There was the message but there was also a real belief in that message from the beginning.”
When Stith joined in 1978, the organization was just in its infancy. The idea of seeking mental health counseling carried such a strong negative stigma, Stith said, that organizers wanted the center to have a hidden parking lot to protect patients.
But as the view of seeking mental health treatment has changed, so has Aurora itself. And the center has expanded exponentially from its origins to meet the needs of a changing community. It was a change that wasn’t always easy. But the challenges of meeting expanding needs and a community that has become one of the most diverse in the country has created an energy that permeates everything the center does now. More than 25,000 unique patients seek help through the center and Aurora Mental Health offers more therapy options in more languages than any other facility in the country, Stith said.
“I have to say mental health and healthcare in general was slow (to adapt to demographic changes). The city was changing and we were still struggling with how do we deal with people now who have limited or no English and we don’t know how to get a translator,” Stith said. “While there was a challenge, we began to see the community become a true cosmopolitan community, way more so than Denver. That cultural variety and diversity began to expand bigger and bigger, and there was a point when it became less of a challenge and more of an exciting, energizing thought of how do we do this together.”
State Sen. Nancy Todd said Stith has earned his retirement but the state will be losing one of the best champions for mental health services it’s ever had.
“He’s always been very forward thinking, even though he’s been at it for 40 years. There was never a lull with him or a time where he’d say he’ll just wait and see what’s going to happen next. He’s been the leader for Aurora and the whole state of Colorado,” Todd said. “He is a genuine person and he has a sincere commitment to quality mental health services for all. That is how he’s lived every day.”