A nationwide executive search brought Anne Starr back to Des Moines to lead Orchard Place. Starr has worked in both direct care and administrative roles at a number of mental health agencies in her 32-year career. Early in her career, she worked as a therapist on the Orchard Place campus and later moved into administrative and executive roles at a number of children’s service agencies in several states. Most recently, Starr served as a regional director of operations for the Guardian Group in Nashville, Tenn. As a parent, she has coped with a child with a serious emotional disturbance; she also serves as guardian to an adult with a severe mental illness. She began her duties at Orchard Place on March 11.

How did you get started working in this field?

I started off working more in the adult mental health and disabilities world. At that time in the early 1980s, there was a big push to bring people into the community from the state resource centers. So I moved to Polk County and jumped right into that, moving people from the insitutions to the community. I enjoyed that a lot; I’ve always had a strong sense of community.

What sparked your interest in serving children?

When I was at Iowa Lutheran Hospital as a psychiatric social worker, I got very interested in the children’s work that was done there, and then became familiar with Orchard Place. I came to Orchard Place back in the late 1980s as a therapist on the residential campus. I got really excited about working with kids and family members. For me, it was that sense of, if we can do this work early on with a child, we can perhaps prevent institutionalization down the road. It’s exhausting work, but it’s very, very rewarding.

What’s new with children’s mental health?

When this position came open, I was really, really excited about it, because here in Iowa for the past several years there has been a big redesign of the mental health system for children and adults. Along with that, there has been some federal legislation with the (Patient Protection and) Affordable Care Act that has allowed states an option to select something called integrated health homes. The goal of that is to ensure that the children who are receiving health services and other social services, that the health home can really help pull together all of those services for the family, to help them navigate some pretty complex systems.

At what organizational stage is Orchard Place?

We are in a growth phase, and part of that has been driven by the mental health redesign and the state choosing that federal option to start using the Medicaid integrated health home for the mental health population of kids and adults. We are opening a new division specifically focused on that integration of mental health resources, and are in the process right now of hiring about 35 staff to start that new division. Services will begin July 1.

So you have a son with mental health issues. Tell me about that.

It flared up in high school for him. He has always had some challenges, but it was really tough. I was maybe informed a little bit more because I had a mental health background and knew how to navigate systems, but even for somebody like me who’s a pretty seasoned professional, it’s still really challenging and draining.

You’re also a guardian?

He’s a gentleman that I met in one of my very first roles here in Des Moines at Polk County Association for Retarded Citizens (ARC). After I left ARC, his guardian passed away and his caseworker asked if I would be willing to serve as his guardian. Shortly after that, he had his first major psychotic break. I’ve been part of his life for almost 34 years. It’s been wonderful to have him in our lives; he’s a terrific guy – a big Iowa Hawkeye fan, which works for us.

What do you enjoy doing beyond work?

One of the things we did when we lived here before was we bought an older home over on the East Side and took several years and renovated it; that was sort of our hobby. We really enjoyed it, and we’ve done it with a couple of other places we’ve lived. I also enjoy gardening; I love the outdoors and hiking and biking. I got a new road bike so I could enjoy all the bike trails around Des Moines.