Dr. Alan Ledford has taken the helm as the new executive director of the troubled addiction treatment agency OnTrack, Inc.
"The biggest challenge is rebuilding community trust," said Ledford, who started work Monday. "It's really a very exciting time and the possibilities are endless. We have a great bunch of people working here. They are very committed."
Former executive director Rita Sullivan, who built OnTrack into Southern Oregon's largest provider of addiction services, was placed on leave in November 2016 and let go in February.
After inspecting residential treatment units, state health officials said some clients and their children needed to be moved due to "deplorable housing" conditions. OnTrack was also hit with a $7.87 million lawsuit by five current and former employees who allege Sullivan was prone to expletive-laden confrontations.
The organization has undertaken major repair and restoration work at its buildings.
Ledford said he will tour the refurbished housing next week.
"I can't comment about the culture before I got here. I've been here five days," Ledford said in a Friday interview. "I see dedicated folks who want to move forward."
A licensed psychologist in Oregon and California with a doctorate in clinical psychology, Ledford was most recently the clinical director at Kairos. He was responsible for the overall clinical direction and program services of the organization, including treatment programs for children, teens and young adults, according to a press release.
A Medford resident who has lived in Southern Oregon for six years, Ledford previously worked as the administrator and clinical director at an acute psychiatric facility for adults in Oakland, California.
Ledford said he started his career in addiction treatment decades ago after battling addiction himself. That experience gives him empathy for people who need OnTrack services.
"When this job came open, it seemed like a good fit given my passion for people experiencing issues with substances," he said.
Ledford said people who have overcome addiction want to help others reclaim their lives. He said treatment needs to address the whole person, plus those around them.
"My general philosophy is that treating families is paramount to people getting better," he said.
OnTrack's inpatient and outpatient services, plus special programs for mothers and fathers, are essential to help people move forward, he said.
Ledford said both locally and nationwide, there isn't enough treatment capacity to help all the people struggling with addiction who seek care. Courts, jails and prisons are overloaded dealing with people suffering from addiction and mental illness.
"We have to address addiction as a public health issue. We need to treat addiction as an issue of health and wellness, not criminality," he said. "That doesn't excuse the criminal behavior. But we need to treat it as a health and wellness issue."
OnTrack provides services for people who have been ordered into treatment through Jackson County Circuit Court's drug court programs. It also serves those who enter treatment voluntarily.
Ledford said poverty, lack of resources and intergenerational trauma all affect people's ability to manage their lives without turning to drugs. Homelessness also takes a toll.
Addiction is a community-wide problem that requires the cooperation of the whole community, he said.
"We have an opportunity to do better and to do more work that helps the clients we serve," he said. "We're all in this together. This valley needs to work together to solve these problems. Collaborating will move us into the future. There's a lot of work to do. No organization can do it alone. We need to work together. Addiction influences and affects us all."