Peggy Newton, unit manager of the Rumford Tri-County Mental Health Services facility, has experienced some stress undertaking her administrative role.

But she has no regrets, far from it: “I thought I could make a difference in the way services are delivered in this community, and that’s why I took the job.”

She has developed innovative programs – a skills building course is just one example.

Newton has also made a big difference, not only in mental health service here in the River Valley, but throughout Tri-County’s system: five sites in four counties provide over 7,500 people with mental health services.

It is here that Newton has piloted a new approach to planning for and delivering needed mental health services to individuals, an approach that has been adopted in all Tri-County’s units. What is it? As Tri-County’s director of Development and Community Relations Tina Clark put it, traditionally, mental health care providers look at an individual and ask, what’s wrong with you? In this new “trauma-informed” mode, we ask, what happened to you? What experience triggered your condition?

When Maine’s Department of Health and Human Services learned about the “trauma therapy” approach, its leaders turned to Tri-County to try it; the agency chose to do the trial in Rumford. It has had important implications for the entire agency: Tri-County won a six-year federal grant to expand the trauma therapy system to children and families. Tri-County, its Rumford site, and the state on the national mental health services map.

No wonder one of Tri-County’s newest board members, Jolene Lovejoy, remarked: “It’s time for Tri-County’s coming out party!”

“We’ve got to have that building!”

That’s what Peggy Newton said to Tri-County’s directors after her first tour of the Rumford Power Company building on Rumford’s island. Most readers will remember that the structure was empty of any enterprise but Dot Sanchez’s Free Store for years. Tri-County’s restoration and renovation of the National Register listee, I believe, marked the beginning of Rumford’s renaissance.

Moreover, its interior design was strongly influenced by agency “consumers” in a process that exemplifies Tri-County’s approach to service delivery. Staff asked clients to identify the short-comings of the former Penobscot Street site. Newton took their responses to the architect who “turned the whole lobby and restroom layout around.”

I had an hour with Peggy Newton and Tina Clark. Enough to know there’s more to know about Tri-County Mental Health Services; enough to rejoice in its presence among us.

Linda Farr Macgregor lives with her husband, Jim, in Rumford. She is a freelance writer and author of “Rumford Stories.” Contact her at [email protected]

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