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Central Tampa News

Five Questions With...Mary Lynn Ulrey, chief executive officer of DACCO

Published:   |   Updated: September 19, 2013 at 02:32 PM

This week we chat with Mary Lynn Ulrey, chief executive officer of DACCO (Drug Abuse Comprehensive Coordinating Office), a non-profit agency that offers a range of drug prevention and treatment programs. The agency was established in 1973 to help local governments set up drug abuse programs, but two years later began offering its own drug treatment programs.

Its main campus is at 4424 E. Columbus Drive, and DACCO has other locations in Tampa and Brandon. The agency recently won the 2013 Science and Service Award for its drug treatment programs and the 2013 Innovation in Behavioral Health Service Award from a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The agency opened a new detoxification facility in May. On Sept. 27, from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., there will be an open house for a new men’s residential facility at 3107 N. 50th St.

Q: Where did you grow up?

Answer: I was born in Tampa, at Tampa General Hospital, and grew up in Dade City, about 35 miles north of here in Pasco County.

Q: What was your career path to DACCO?

Answer: With a double major in math and nursing, I chose to become a nurse after college, primarily in the mental health field. However, I spent several years as a medical unit charge nurse and head nurse. As a single parent, I left Tampa with my two sons, when provided an opportunity to lead a 60 bed psychiatric hospital in Vero Beach, and spent 1 1/2 years with that organization to bring about a successful financial turnaround. We moved back (to Tampa) when I was offered a director of nursing job at Charter Hospital. ... After five years at Charter Hospital, I left for the not-for-profit world to become director of residential services at Operation PAR in St. Pete. I remained there six years and left as the chief operating officer, when the chief executive officer position opened at DACCO, and I was fortunate to be selected.

Q: What approach does DACCO take in creating its drug treatment programs?

Answer: We look for programming to be client-centered and evidenced-based on research to meet gaps in services either for a population or location, and we find qualified staff to deliver those services. I work closely with the board of trustees and the leadership at DACCO, as well as stakeholders in the community, to provide needed and valued services to all citizens in our county.

Q: What is the most challenging part of your job?

Answer: We have grown exponentially in the medical arena in the past few years. The brain disease of addiction is not accepted readily by everyone, yet it was coined a disease by the American Medical Association in 1986, about 25 years ago. Much research has been done in the past 15 years that clearly says, Treatment Works! The stigma and the lack of parity for behavioral heath disorders sadden me and our field. I work very hard to educate, tour the programs and explain addiction, and we employ the very best staff at DACCO to help move the pendulum in a positive direction. People might experiment with drugs or alcohol, but no one chooses to be an addict, lose their children or their marriage. My hope is that our field will one day be on par with other chronic diseases.

Q: What is most satisfying about your job?

Answer: The people I work with that give so much of themselves to our work; the family members that call for help, get it and then show up at their loved one’s graduation from a program; and that “aha” moment when someone on tour seems to understand that treatment is extremely comprehensive and how much work what we do requires.

Kathy Steele

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