By Valerie Vinyard
Dedicated to Mental Health
It takes someone exceptional to run one of the largest nonprofits in Tucson.
Fortunately for Intermountain Centers for Human Development, President and CEO Rose Lopez appears to have things well in hand.
Though Intermountain reported a $30 million budget last year, many Tucsonans are unfamiliar with the 45-year-old organization. Its 20 or so wide-ranging community, foster care and residential programs, however, profoundly impact hundreds of people with mental illnesses and their families each month.
Lopez started with Intermountain in 2004 as CFO, then served as executive VP before taking the helm in 2016. She oversees a staff of nearly 400.
“Rose is a leader that this organization has been waiting for,” said Jessica Reese, chief clinical director for Intermountain. “She has her finger on the pulse where behavioral healthcare is going. She has business savvy – and she has a heart.”
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one out of five people are affected by mental health and developmental conditions, including bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and autism.
Since its inception, Intermountain has developed a variety of programs and services for all ages and ethnicities. That includes home-based and out-of-home support for emotionally and behaviorally challenged children, adults with serious mental illness and people with developmental disabilities. Its various programs in Tucson include four group homes, about 120 foster homes and apartments with daily support from staff.
About five years ago, Intermountain entered the education sector, serving Tucson children with specialized academic and behavioral needs, including autism spectrum disorder.
Lopez said she grew up with many of the same challenges faced by Intermountain’s current members. However, she was fortunate to be raised by a strong single parent and with strong community support. “If you have a strong community and a healthy family, you can be successful,” Lopez said. “Unfortunately, that’s not always a given. For those who don’t have that support, Intermountain is here.”
Lopez happened to be strong-willed and adventurous. Born in Sacaton, Arizona, the youngest of eight was a good student and attended Central Arizona College before impulsively enlisting in the U.S. Army, serving in Europe. She then graduated from the University of South Carolina and worked for Tucson-based Providence Service Corporation helping to grow its business on the East Coast. She returned to Arizona in 2004.
“Rose is a fantastic leader within a complex and ever-changing behavioral health framework,” said Brandt Hazen, Intermountain’s board chair. “She is constantly looking for efficiencies and improvements. Her focus always remains steadfast on the individuals we treat.”
Lopez said many myths surround mental health issues – including the belief that most people with mental illness are simply making bad decisions – or that their families should be stepping in to help. She is often out in the community, working to provide positive change and meet mental health needs in Tucson. She said that today’s changing healthcare system has seen big insurance companies enter the mix of mental health services – which often complicate the process.
The current state of mental health services is a far cry from Intermountain’s humble beginnings at the Old Prison Camp on Mount Lemmon. That facility was known as the Southwest Indian Youth Center and provided services to American Indians, Intermountain’s original target market. “Being on Mount Lemmon, there was a vision of what behavioral health should look like,” said Lopez, who calls what has happened since an “evolution.”
Dawne Bell, CEO of the Women’s Foundation of Southern Arizona, works closely with Lopez, who serves on the WFSA Board of Trustees. “In her role as CEO, Rose leads a dynamic team and impacts thousands of families every year by providing critical behavioral health services in multiple communities throughout Arizona,” Bell said. “Rose is strategic and focused – her approach to systems change is transformative and inspiring. Her innovative work in Pinal County, especially, deserves recognition for creatively approaching workforce development while increasing access to integrated care.”
Pat Treeful, retired CEO of Pantano Behavioral Health, which merged with Intermountain, said, “Rose is an innovative, creative and collaborative leader. She always works for system changes where needed to impact positive outcomes for the clientele. Rose understands fully the value of community collaboration and outreach.”
Though Intermountain’s mission isn’t necessarily to grow, Lopez said the academy recently formed an alliance with one of Arizona’s leading behavioral health services organizations, Pinal Hispanic Council, which serves nearly 1,000 members.
“I love what I do every day,” she said. “Intermountain is a human service organization. We help communities become healthier.”