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Nonprofit group to take over mental health tasks

December 28, 1998|By BRUCE HAMILTON

A Hagerstown man has formed a nonprofit corporation to take over three Washington County Mental Health Authority services, including the "listening line," drop-in center and office of consumer advocacy program.

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Kenneth Wireman, Office of Consumer Advocates Inc. board president, filed the articles of incorporation Monday.

"I can't tell you how excited I am," he said. "With those three programs under one roof, we are probably one of the most formidable consumer advocacy groups in the state."

By "consumers," Wireman doesn't mean those who buy groceries. "A consumer is a person who uses mental health services," he said.

OCA Inc. will be run primarily by consumers for consumers, according to Wireman.

"It's a very good move," said Phillip E. Dukes, executive director of the mental health authority. "It's an effort to recognize the fact that consumers themselves are able to operate services. You cannot empower every one without enabling them."

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The mental health authority is phasing out its services, becoming more administrative.

"We are making a concerted effort to divest ourselves of direct services," Dukes said.

For example, the authority began operating the "listening line" on April 1, 1997, but now contracts the service through OCA Inc.

The "listening line" assists people with mental illness or related problems from 5 to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday. OCA Inc. also will take over the advocacy program.

Wireman plans to open a new drop-in center at 265 Mill St., Suite 200, on Jan. 16. The center, tentatively called "soul haven," can be reached at 301-790-5054.

"It will be a place of belonging for people who have mental illness," Wireman said. "A place to have belonging, to have ownership. That's my vision."

OCA Inc. has a staff of four consumers, two of whom will run the drop-in center.

Wireman served as interim mental health services director of the Mental Health Authority.

As a consumer himself, he is committed to the cause, he said.

"It's a very big drive for me," he said. "I think it's very important."

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