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Reflecting on the 45-year legacy of the Prestera Center

Feb. 15, 2013 @ 11:42 AM

Looking back 50-plus years ago, mental health services were rudimentary and sparse in West Virginia and other states.  Prior to legislation passed by President Kennedy and Congress, state owned and operated inpatient “lunatic asylums” provided most mental health treatment in West Virginia before 1960.

That crude treatment included procedures like insulin shock therapy, electroconvulsive shock, giving major tranquilizers and in extreme cases, surgery like involuntary sterilization or lobotomy where parts of the frontal lobe of the brain are removed or scrambled.

The history of Prestera Center and all community based mental health programs began under President John F. Kennedy. In 1963, President Kennedy submitted the nation’s first Presidential message on mental health issues.

Congress passed the “Mental Retardation Facilities and Community Mental Health Centers Construction Act,” also known as the “Community Mental Health Act of 1963.” That started a new era in Federal support for mental health services.

The Act assured access to community mental health programs for all Americans. By some accounts, President Kennedy had a mentally ill sister named Rose Marie Kennedy or “Rosemary.” Rosemary Kennedy underwent a pre-frontal lobotomy at age 23 for her violent mood swings, violent outbursts, “convulsive rages” and tantrums, which left her permanently incapacitated and institutionalized until she died of natural causes at age 87 in 2005. It may not be purely coincidental that the Community Mental Health Act was introduced by her older brother.

The Mental Health Act of the early 1960s called for the development of regional mental health centers throughout the state, so people across all states in the country would have access to mental health services. Mental health clinics emerged and applied for federal staffing grants to initiate comprehensive community mental health centers across the country.

The Community Mental Health Center serving Cabell, Lincoln, Mason, and Wayne counties was first formed as the Southwestern Comprehensive Mental Health Center on March 28, 1967. The original incorporators included Michael R. Prestera, Harold A. LaParl, C.T. Mitchell, Milton T. Herndon, Elizabeth Wolfe, Lewis G. Mills, Barney Asbury, and George W. Johnson. Mr. Michael Prestera served as the organization’s first president, until his death in 1970.

Mr. Prestera successfully organized a campaign that moved this catchment area from the bottom of the state priority list for community mental health services to near the top, in order to obtain a federal construction grant for the center now located at 3375 U.S. 60 East in Huntington.

The Board of Directors approved an amendment to change the corporate name to Prestera Center for Mental Health Services, Inc., in April 1981, to honor Mr. Prestera’s dedication.  Unfortunately, Mr. Michael Prestera perished in the tragic Marshall University airplane crash on Nov. 14, 1970.

His family continues their support today, including past service on the governing board and current service on the Prestera Foundation Board of Trustees.  

An important element of Prestera Center today is its response to needs in the community that bring new programs.  

New programs and services that Prestera Center has added over time include specific education and treatment programs, federal grant projects, intensive treatment programs, consultation to other agencies and support groups, implementation of emergency and community support services 24/7/365, supportive housing and residential programs, collaborations with primary care centers, full time services in rural counties, residential programs like group homes, services that provide housing to homeless adults and families, a full continuum of treatment for addictions recovery from detox through short-term and long-term residential treatment and halfway houses for substance abusers, just to name a few.

With the bankruptcy of Shawnee Hills Community Mental Health Center, Prestera Center expanded mental health and addictions treatment services in Putnam, Kanawha, Boone and Clay counties into its family of services on May 1, 2002.  

Prestera Center made a commitment to the residents previously served by Shawnee Hills that programs and services would not be interrupted.

Staff were hired immediately as Prestera Center employees. Ten years later, there are 53 Prestera Center locations across the eight-county region, making it the largest mental health and addictions services provider in the State of West Virginia. Annually, Prestera Center served more than 21,000 adults, children and families last year and is one of the state’s top employers with 850 staff.

As Prestera looks to the future, it is apparent that mental health and substance abuse problems affect more West Virginians than ever before. Our goal is to serve everyone regardless of their ability to pay and to continue to develop programs in response to needs in our communities. Since 1967, Prestera Center has been a part of Putnam County and our community and we promise to continue providing the high quality services you expect.

Prestera Center offers Putnam County residents access to effective mental health and addictions treatment services in Winfield and Hurricane, W.Va. Offices in Winfield, W.Va., are located at 3389 Winfield Road, Suite 8, on the grounds of the Courthouse Complex.

Professionals are available to see new people, answer questions, provide services to children, adolescents and families, adults with depression or anxiety or more severe mental health problems or anyone with addiction or substance abuse problems.

The Winfield location is taking new clients by appointment at 304-586-0670 and walk-ins are welcome Monday through Friday between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m.  

Offices in Hurricane are called “Hopewell” and are located at 3772 Teays Valley Road, Suite #2. The Hopewell offices specialize in serving adults with insurance in need of addiction treatment, medication assisted addiction treatment and mental health problems like depression and anxiety or more severe mental health problems.

The Hopewell office in Hurricane is also accepting new clients and scheduling appointments by phoning 304-757-8475.   

 Kim Miller is the director of Corporate Development at Prestera. She can be reached at kim.miller@prestera.org.

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