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Executive edge: Carl Clark



Three years ago, Carl Clark, CEO of the Mental Health Center of Denver, threw down the gauntlet to his staff of 500 - to make his organization the greenest mental health center in the country.

Mugs replaced disposable cups; bottled water was eliminated; staff were given Eco Passes to encourage bus ridership and Clark would ride his bike to work. "People like doing things in a green way so staff have really taken to it," said Clark, who is overseeing the $15 million purchase and renovation of a building at 4455 E. 12th Ave. in Denver that will open next year as an adult services recovery center.

"Our goal is to have it be the highest LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification that we can get. The engineers calculated that it will save 1 million kilowatts a year, which is enough energy for 94 homes for a year."

The 75,000-square-foot building will offer primary-care services alongside mental health services and enable MHCD to serve 2,000 more people at any given time. It couldn't come at a better time, as the economic downturn means more business for Colorado's largest mental health center, which cares for 5,500 people and operates on a $60 million annual budget.

"Five years ago we were bringing in five people a day and were turning away 10 people a day, so we came up with a plan that if we doubled in size, we'd be able to meet all the needs," said Clark, a practicing psychiatrist who sees homeless patients a half-day each week. "Well, we did that, and today we bring in 10 people a day and turn away 20. When the economy is bad, people who were going to develop a problem will find it showing up sooner under the stress of bad economic circumstances."

People also are less reticent to seek help than they were five years ago.

"More people have an awareness that if you have depression, you should go see someone. Or if you have bipolar, to get some treatment," Clark said. "People know us better than they did five years ago, so that's better."

Clark, who grew up in Tulsa, Okla., and earned his medical degree from the University of Colorado, joined MHCD in 1989 and was named CEO 10 years ago. Earlier this year he was named chairman of the board of directors of the National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare - a 2,000-member trade organization.

"We have a very progressively thinking group of people who work here, and we're always changing, so I haven't had to move around to have new challenges," Clark said.

Clark chose to go into the not-for-profit world after experiencing his father's struggle with bipolar disorder that led to his stay in a state mental hospital. "I wanted families to get what my family had. I feel lucky that there was a place we could go when my dad was ill - and that's our mission here," said Clark, 55. "We want to be able to provide services to anybody who needs them out in the community.

His father ultimately recovered from his illness, returned to work full time and would inspire Clark's long-held belief that people can and do recover from mental illness.

"I feel very grateful that I didn't lose my dad to suicide or other bad things that can happen when people are ill and not in treatment," Clark said. "He was a great guy, and I got a lot out of having my dad around."

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Lynn Bronikowski

Lynn Bronikowski is a freelance writer in Denver.

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