Ralph Fee retires

(Plain Press, August 2004) Ralph Fee, a pioneer in creating community-based mental health facilities on the Near West Side of Cleveland, retired as executive director of Bridgeway on June 15, 2004 .

In the early 1970s there was an effort to shift mental health care from large hospitals such as Cleveland Psychiatric Institute to small community-based facilities. The West Side Mental Health Task Force was formed to find a way to accomplish that feat.

The Task Force hired Fee in June of 1972 to help develop a proposal for a community-based mental health center within a year’s time. That time deadline was soon shortened to October of 1972. Fee responded to the challenge, and the West Side Community Mental Health Center opened in 1973 with Fee as its Executive Director. West Side Community Mental Health’s merger with Hill House created Bridgeway a few years ago.

Even in his retirement, Fee will remain the only executive director of West Side Community Mental Health and Bridgeway. As Fee retires, Bridgeway and Cleveland Christian Home have created a new agency, Community Care Network, (see related article) to perform administrative functions for both Bridgeway and Cleveland Christian Home . Chief Operating Officer Greg Uhland will now run Bridgeway’s programs, while administrative tasks are relegated to the Community Care Network’s executive director.

During Fee’s tenure West Side Community Mental Health/Bridgeway not only grew its main facility at 8301 Detroit Avenue , but also created satellite mental health clinics and group homes throughout the Near West Side. The Playhouse and Choices programs at Bridgeway’s Denison Help Center offer creative programs for teens. Bridgeway’s neighborhood based facilities were early innovators in creating case management services, a team approach for solving problems. With its merger with the Hill House in the year 2000, Bridgeway now has facilities throughout the Cleveland area.

On the Bridgeway property on Detroit Avenue , new housing on the rear Franklin side of the property opened this year to provide affordable rental property for mental health clients with the resources of Bridgeway in close proximity. The campus includes a mental health crisis center that provides beds for those in crisis, in addition to hosting evening group meetings and various outings for area mental health clients.

Spin-offs from Bridgeway include the Club House, which provides a comfortable drug- and alcohol-free place for mental health clients to hang-out, and the former COMPEER program, now Project One on One, which matches mental health clients with peers in the community to help form long term supportive friendships.

At the retirement party, friends and co-workers shared some of the achievements that resulted from Fee’s creativity and willingness to reach out to other organizations. Creation of the Community Care Network is one of many innovations and cooperative activities Fee took part in creating over the years. Fee was known for cooperating with other agencies, helping new agencies to get off the ground and encouraging spin-off agencies.

In the early 1970s Fee worked with neighborhood activist Mel Edwards to secure funding for the Neighborhood Counseling Center on the Near West Side, which today after a merger is part of Recovery Resources. Prior to that, Fee worked to help create the 24-hour crisis intervention team in Cuyahoga County . Fee was instrumental in helping to secure space for the West Side Women’s Center to help it to get established. He worked cooperatively with many neighborhood organizations and health care programs to help develop new programs to address community concerns.

Speakers at the retirement party praised Fee for his willingness to speak out. A Bridgeway Board member and longtime friend said, “Ralph has never been quiet in the presence of suffering.” A former executive director of a mental health facility praised Fee for his “willingness to say what others are only thinking about.”

Bridgeway’s Chief Operating Officer Greg Uhland praised Fee for his “innovativeness and ability to see ahead what was coming as a leader in the mental health community for thirty five years.”

In thanking friends and supporters at his retirement party Fee said, “Whatever success I’ve achieved it is because of people in this room.” He praised the “passion, commitment and dedication to the community” of those he worked with over the years ,

saying “it has been a pleasure to work with you. I’ve been truly blessed.”

A plaque honoring Ralph Fee’s parents will be placed in the garden by the new homes on the Bridgeway property. Fee said “the plaque is very special to me.” Speaking of his mother Fee said, “I think she would be very comfortable back there (working in the garden) if she had a chance.” Fee will take his newly refurbished wooden desk into retirement with him – a gift from his co-workers along with some retirement reading material.

In typical Fee fashion, he ended his remarks by introducing Brian Casey, the coordinator of Weed-N-Seed, the latest organization Bridgeway has assisted in getting off the ground. Fee said he had high hopes that the Weed-N-Seed would help turn this neighborhood around. He told Casey, “In four months I expect the drugs and prostitution to be gone, to see no boarded up houses and for everyone in the neighborhood to have and income of $35,000 plus.”


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