The responsibility of Vera French Community Mental Health Center as a safety net provider was the focus of a strategic planning session Monday in Davenport.

A group of 26 Vera French board members and other community representatives discussed that responsibility to Scott County and the surrounding region, and the challenges that come with it, during a focus group at the Davenport Public Library.

Steve Sorensen, owner/managing director of Strategy in Progress, LLC, facilitated the session. He said Vera French seeks community input about the priorities and direction the center should take in the future.

“Vera French is the community’s safety net when it comes to behavioral health, and the center is accountable to community stakeholders and citizens,” said Vera French CEO Richard K. Whitaker. “So, as a key part of the planning process, we are presenting the central issues and focus points we have identified so far and are asking for open and thoughtful feedback.

“How your mental health goes is how your health goes,” he said. “We can’t just provide services. We’ve got to show we’re making a difference.”

He talked about the concept of decriminalization of mental-health illness and substance abuse. “For their mental illness problems, (some people) are sitting in jail,” he said.

He added that Vera French consists of the center, housing and the foundation. “It is critical that all three entities work together in a common strategic direction to address mental health in the community,” he said. “That term ‘safety net’ is a big responsibility. We can’t have any gaps in our continuing care.”

Sorensen led the group in discussing five open-ended questions about the community’s most critical needs with respect to behavioral and mental health, what it means for Vera French to be the community “safety net” when it comes to behavioral health, what core mental health services Vera French must provide, ideas about how Vera French can subsidize its business model and ideas about how the organization can better use its resources to better serve the community.

“There are rule followers, rule breakers and rule writers. We need to be a rule writer,” said former Vera French board member Joe Slavens, president and  CEO of Northwest Bank & Trust Company.

After Sorensen led a group discussion, some of the main concerns the group expressed were:

• Coordination of services

• Easy and timely access to services

• Need for collaborating partners

• Need to address provider shortages

• Clarifying Vera French’s external capacity — securing transitional housing and transportation for clients, for example

• Finding new ways of doing things

Those attending included Bettendorf Police Chief Phil Redington and Davenport Community Schools Superintendent Art Tate. Participants included representatives from several other organizations that assist those with mental illness, as well as a representative of Rep. Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa.

Sorensen said strategic planning began in May and will continue through September.


Film critic/reporter since 1985 at Quad-City Times. Broadcast Film Critics Association member. College instructor for criminal justice, English and math. Serves on Safer Foundation and The Salvation Army advisory boards. Member of St. Mark Lutheran Church