Dear Friends and Partners of South Lane Mental Health,
We are pleased to announce South Lane Mental Health’s new Executive Director, Noah Zepeda, who had been our Director of Finance and Operations for the past eight years. His strategic vision for our operations and his careful management of our financial position has positioned our agency well for the future.
The board came to this decision after an extensive process of carefully considering what will be needed over the next several years for the agency. SLMH is well positioned for continued improvement as we emerge from the pandemic. Under Noah’s leadership, we believe we will be able to evolve and grow our services to our community. Noah has clearly demonstrated his commitment to the values of respect, creativity, diversity, community and empowerment. He also brings to this position his qualities of humility, integrity and a deep belief in inclusion. The board fully believes that his background and understanding of the culture of our agency will help to position the agency well for the future.
Noah has an undergraduate degree in Business Administration and a Master of Science Management from Southern Oregon University. He has worked for other local organizations but has found his home at South Lane Mental Health. He has a strong commitment to the services we provide to serve the needs of our rural community. As a bilingual and multicultural leader of our organization, Noah will be able to clearly communicate our commitment to diversity and inclusion in our community and to our clients.
Our board is happy to welcome Noah as our new Executive Director.
A Message from Noah Zepeda, Executive Director:
I was born and raised in the small rural town of Oakridge, Oregon that had little to no mental health services. Because of this, I have had unfortunate firsthand knowledge of what happens to rural communities without these resources. My high school experience in Oakridge was marked by three close friends who died by suicide. In the first few years following graduation, two more friends still living in the Oakridge area also chose to take their own lives. For a school of around 200 people this is a devastatingly high rate of suicide, and I’m convinced the lack of services in Oakridge – which persists to this day – directly contributed to this.
I have close family members with severe and persistent mental health issues, and have watched them struggle to a point to where they’ve had psychotic breaks and needed to be hospitalized. Alcohol and drug use are also acute issues in the town I grew up in; I know people there that are currently struggling from substance abuse and overwhelmed by the fact that there is nowhere to go to receive services. I have witnessed their symptoms get worse over time and they become less and less functional in their day to day lives. Substance abuse treatment, combined with mental health treatment, are a necessity in the rural communities of Oregon.
As a man of Hispanic descent, I am aware of the health insurance issues that face undocumented people due to their immigration status. There is an ongoing struggle to find mental health providers who will accept them as clients with no insurance or the ability to pay. Without these necessary preventative services, they go without treatment until their symptoms become so severe that they require hospitalization. For this reason, I strongly believe in South Lane Mental Health’s mission to serve every person regardless of their ability to pay. As well as insurance barriers, it is very difficult for non-English speaking people to find bilingual mental health services; the lack of which leads to heightened symptoms and eventual hospitalization. This is why I am a firm believer in providing services in the client’s native language. Equity and inclusion are very important to me, and we will continue to strive to find culturally diverse clinicians to be part of the SLMH team.
My heart will always be in rural Oregon and I feel a close connection to the clients of SLMH, as they were born and raised in a similar environment as I. I have a deep understanding of the issues a rural population faces that others may not. My grandmother raised my mom and her four siblings in Cottage Grove as a single mom. My family is a product of the same generational poverty that SLMH’s clients are experiencing. My dad worked in the saw mill in Oakridge up until he had a heart attack at a very young age. After his heart attack he was unable to work and support our family. It took a couple years for him to navigate the system and eventually receive social security disability benefits. Even with the benefits, it was difficult for my family to make ends meet. To this day, it is close to impossible to find a Medicare provider that can communicate effectively in Spanish for my dad to have his basic health care needs met. There are a large number of clients in the community that depend on Social Security and other benefits to survive, just as my family did, and my parents continue to do. I have a real understanding of the culture of poverty that most of our clients are living through because I lived through it myself. It is with gratitude and humility that I now accept the new challenge of Executive Director, and I look forward to many more productive years with South Lane Mental Health.