'A great place to raise a family'
When he steps down, Stone will have spent 18 years as the mental health board's director.
But when the Long Island native moved in the early 1980s, he didn't plan to stay.
After his wife finished her graduate work on the East Coast, they moved to Ashland for Stone to complete his graduate work.
"As things started to happen and we developed friendships and got jobs, we realized this was a great place to raise a family," he said. "We've had two children here and lived in the Mapleton School District since the mid-'80s."
His first job in Ashland was with the Ashland County Alcohol Center, then he ran a program for the juvenile court for several years before going into private practice.
"While I was doing that, I did some teaching at Ashland University, and then my wife was having some health problems with her pregnancy and I didn't have any insurance, and so I was starting to look around for another real job," he said. "I got a job as an agency director up in Huron County, and then from there, went to be the associate director in Richland County."
When the director of the Ashland board retired, he applied for the job and started work on Jan. 1, 2003.
'More time on the mechanics'
The mental health care system has changed dramatically since then, Stone said.
"I hope I don't sound cynical, but the reality is it's become much more of a bureaucratic quagmire in many ways," he said. "Funding, there's been more dollars coming down the pipe, but they have been much more fragmented; they're more restricted, there are more mandates. There's an attempt to move Ohio's behavioral health care system into a managed care framework, and that process has been underway for the past five or six years, and it's been very, very chaotic behind the scenes."
Fortunately, county mental health boards have been able to be a stabilizing factor, said.
"My biggest concern if you will, or disappointment, has been that we've gradually spent more and more time on the mechanics of the system and what we're doing, but not spending as much time thinking about why we're doing it, or what we're actually trying to accomplish."
In the past, there was a lot more discussion about people who were suffering, and what services and supports could help them have successful lives, he said.
Other changes have been more positive.
"I think there's a much greater appreciation today for mental health and addiction services than there was years ago when I first started," Stone said. "I think a lot of that is because of 9/11, because we understand the psychological impact of terrorism and those kinds of things, and the renewed appreciation for the value and importance of mental health supports and services."
Providers and the pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic has required changes in the way services are provided, often involving telehealth, in which patient and provider speak via telephone or video, a process that many are adapting to nicely, Stone said.
"Some people are actually doing better and engaging more effectively with telehealth services than they were with face-to-face," he said. "There's also a lot more convenience; people don't have the same challenges with transportation, because it doesn't matter if their car starts, or if they've got gas for it. They don't have to find child care for their children."
He doesn't dismiss the value of human connection, however, noting that the full impact of care changes brought on by the pandemic is yet to be seen.
Stone's advice to his successor?
"Stay focused on the why we're doing what we're doing and the people that we're here to serve, and to continue to promote a system of care that's trauma-informed and to not get sucked into the bureaucratic mechanics of the system that will ultimately eclipse our ability to do the kind of work that we're really here to do."