opiate addictions

Clemons has been the voice for those living with mental health, addiction issues

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News Tom Clemons can talk … and talk … and talk. Most of what he talks about is pushing for mental health services for Wood County residents – and making fun of himself for talking so much. Clemons, whose propensity for talking is well known, is retiring from his position as director of the Wood County Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services Board next March. “This interview could last several days,” he said with a big grin. “I go off on tangents.” And that is an understatement. Clemons is aware that his gift of gab is nearly legendary – so he is frequently apologizing for rambling. “Oh my God, Tom’s at it again,” he says in his customary self-deprecating manner. But this fall, as Clemons fine tuned his WCADAMHS levy pitch, he was able to rein it in. “It took everything I had,” he whispered. “I can be succinct. I just don’t like being succinct.” Behind him in the WCADAMHS conference room as he was interviewed was a white board with almost unintelligible pen scratchings. It was a visible manifestation of how Clemons’ brain works. Far from neat and tidy, it’s how Clemons thinks. And it’s benefitted Wood County for more than 20 years. Clemons came to the board first as associate director in 1997, then became director in 2012. Prior to that, he worked as a therapist in private practice in the Defiance area. He changed jobs to be closer to home while his and wife Karen’s children were teenagers. “For a few years I really missed being a therapist,” he said. “But I realized I could really affect more people and systems of care,” in his administrative position. Clemons was drawn to psychology early in life. “I had friends in high school who I saw become addicted to drugs and alcohol.” And he had two friends who took their lives. His parents were a huge influence on his career path, with his father being a minister and his mother having a divinity degree and working with senior adults. “I was raised to serve other people,” Clemons said. “I think the idea of service to others has always been ingrained in me.” His belief system is focused on “finding ways of loving our neighbors,” and not just those geographically close. Clemons’ gift of gab was also a trait passed down. “Dad was a storyteller. He was famous for his long sermons,” Clemons said. “I think I come by it naturally.” Clemons leaves the job with a lot of accomplishments to talk about. During his administration, the agency has seen improvements in crisis services, suicide prevention, opiate addiction intervention, and trauma-informed services. He is a believer that “treatment works.” But Clemons is most proud of his ability to get local agencies to work together to provide that treatment. “I think the best thing I did, that I feel most proud of, is building relationships with other partners,” he said. That often meant buying breakfast or lunch for people, “cause who wants to sit down with me,” unless a meal is in store, Clemons said in his self-deprecating manner. People are willing to enter partnerships with him, “just to get me out the door.” The truth is, a lot of people wanted to sit down with Clemons to discuss how to improve mental health and addiction programs. “It was clear how much he wanted agencies to partner with the ADAMHS board,” said Janelle LaFond, director of the Children’s Resource Center – one such agency. “It wasn’t always that way.” “He is very accessible and…