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Retirement Reception: Joel Mowrey, PhD

The community wished retiring Mental Health & Recovery Board Executive Director Joel Mowrey, PhD well at a reception held in his honor in December 2018.

Published by Record Courier: By BOB GAETJENS Reporter, Posted Jan 8, 2019 at 12:01 AM (

Dr. Joel Mowrey, outgoing director of the Mental Health and Recovery Board of Portage County, is fixing his gaze westward as he turns the agency over to Dr. John Garrity.

Garrity is replacing Mowrey, who’s been with the MHRB since 2008, first as the assistant director and, beginning in 2012, as executive director.

“We are planning to move sometime in 2019 to — of all places — Montana, because of family,” Mowrey said.

He said he has grandchildren who live in Livingston, Montana, which is about 50 miles north of Yellowstone National Park.

During the course of his career, Mowrey said drug abuse has always been a challenge, but the stakes have risen in recent years.

“Substance abuse has always been there, particularly with alcohol and other kinds of substances, but people weren’t dying at the rates they’ve been during at in the last four or five years,” he said. “Now, the heroin is more pure, and there’s fentanyl and carfentanyl. There’ve been some changes as far as that becoming a life-and-death issue.”

Garrity, who’s worked for the MHRB since October, said his goals include continuing to build teamwork among county agencies, which he said is a “real key to our success.” Some of those partners include the Portage County Board of Developmental Disabilities, the Portage County Sheriff’s Office and jail, Townhall II, Portage County Job and Family Services, Coleman Professional Services, the Kent and Portage County health departments and others, including local police departments.

“We depend on so many different entities working together,” Garrity said, adding Mowrey had developed “really strong” relationships with community partners.

Garrity comes to Portage County with training in medical anthropology, including a doctorate in behavioral health, mental illness and addiction across different cultures and ethnic groups. He served as the chief quality officer for the Cuyahoga County Office of Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services.

In addition to continuing to strengthen relationships around the county, Garrity said he would like to prioritize suicide prevention in 2019. He and Mowrey said the county typically averages 14 or 15 completed suicides, and in 2018, it was “more than double that,” according to Garrity.

“We’re looking at some of our suicide prevention strategies, along with our providers,” he said. “We do look at that every year, but we want to take a more comprehensive look and see what kinds of trends we might be able to identify.”

Another priority, which is related to drug addiction, is to work with Portage County Job and Family Services to help children left alone due to their parents’ addiction problems, according to Mowrey.

“They’ve experienced high increases in removal of children [from homes] primarily because of parents being addicted,” he said.

Garrity and Mowrey also agreed that watching the future of Medicaid in the state will be important for MHRB’s clients.

“If it goes away, it falls back on us to pay for a lot of people we don’t have to pay for at the moment,” Mowrey said.

Having some help paid for by Medicaid freed up money to spend elsewhere, added Garrity, adding removal of Medicaid funding would create a “funding crisis” for the MHRB.

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