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Gulf & Main Magazine

Culture of Caring and Compassion

Jun 30, 2023 09:24AM ● By Kathy Montgomery

Elizabeth Pine (center, in red with scissors) and her husband Don (also in red) at the dedication of the Bryce Burke house in 2017. The couple donated to refurbish the three-bedroom home, SalusCare’s first independent living home for recovering addicts. PHOTO COURTESY OF SALUSCARE

Believing one agency would better serve the community, two long-standing mental and behavioral health agencies—Southwest Florida Addiction Services and Lee Mental Health—merged in 2013 to form the largest nonprofit mental health and substance use treatment agency in Southwest Florida.
Ten years later, SalusCare, named for the Latin root of salus (pronounced sail-us), meaning health, prosperity, and safety, continues to reflect that focus, while moving forward to meet the needs of the community.
Today SalusCare employs more than 300 people who bring hope and recovery to nearly 16,000 adults and children each year with outpatient psychiatry and therapy, residential programs, recovery residences, emergency/crisis services, detox, and community-based services from six locations in Lee County.
“We offer the full continuum of behavioral health services,” says Stacey Cook, who had been with Lee Mental Health for 18 years before becoming the CEO of SalusCare in 2016. “It’s a huge win for the community to have all services truly connected.”
While the two organizations had been working together, the merger recognized the growing awareness that mental and behavioral health and addiction are often related. “It has allowed us to become well rounded with cross training that has helped us enhance care,” says Michelle Sutherland, who had been with Southwest Florida Addiction Services for 18 years and has served as SalusCare’s executive administrator and director of outsourced operations since 2020. “Everyone is able to share in patient care holistically, and it has allowed our staff to learn and grow.”
Combining the organizations has allowed SalusCare to better manage staffing, changes in regulations, and demand for services. Leadership changes at SalusCare since it was formed have resulted in a primarily female team.
“We work together with creativity and deep-level thinking that is both the present and future,” Cook says. “Women emote compassion and empathy deeply, which is important now more than ever. We are creating an environment that is healing, and women are great at that, without minimizing power and authority.”
SalusCare has promoted a culture of transparency, with the goal of helping staff understand the big picture, as well as having a role in decision-making. Think tanks are created to address problems, drawing employees of all levels to brainstorm solutions. “If all the big decisions and big thinking is done at the top, employees feel disconnected and not invested,” Cook says. “We are investing in the collective to get people involved organizationally.”
SalusCare is also working to address the growing need for mental, behavioral, and addiction services, which has been on the rise in the past few years, and Cook says she expects it to triple in the next five to 10 years.
Strategic planning currently underway includes envisioning ways to reduce the physical footprint by embracing technology. “With technology and telehealth, there are ways to better use resources and expand our reach,” Cook says. This year, for example, texting for appointments was added.
Going forward into its next decade, SalusCare wants to remain agile and at the forefront of promising treatments, such as transcranial magnetic stimulation, a noninvasive treatment that uses magnetic pulses to stimulate nerve cells in the brain associated with major depression. “It has been found to work where traditional medicine has not,” Cook says.
At the Crisis Stabilization Unit, where some of the area’s most urgent and severe mental health
crises are treated, the team has been working with data and training to reduce the use of seclusion and restraint. “These techniques are highly traumatizing for the patients and the staff,” Sutherland says. “We are working on talking and forming relationships, and we have seen decreases in injuries and increases in patient and staff satisfaction.”

3763 Evans Avenue, Fort Myers

Kathy Montgomery has been writing for more than 30 years about Southwest Florida and the interesting people who live in the region.