New MECCA leader eyes changes

BY HOLLY HINES | JULY 07, 2009 7:20 AM

National recognition, redistributed decision-making power, and increased community awareness — Steve Estes, the CEO of the area substance-abuse treatment center MECCA, wants to see some changes.

Anticipating the not-for-profit center’s 40th anniversary in September, he gave a short presentation last week to the Johnson County Board of Supervisors.

“I’m extremely impressed with Steve in his short time here,” said Supervisor Rod Sullivan, and he looks forward to the improvements Estes — who took the job in March — has in mind regarding treatment for those suffering from addiction and mental illness.

“This is an opportunity to springboard off the fantastic work that’s already been done here,” said Estes, noting that he moved from Arizona to Iowa City to pursue this job as a professional challenge.

He plans to bring national recognition to MECCA — whose Iowa City base is at 430 Southgate Ave. — by seeking accreditation with the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities. This would require MECCA, which treats 5,000 people a year, to meet the best of service standards, he said.

He hopes to accomplish this by next summer through methods such as giving more decision-making power to people in lower positions at the organization. Delegating more responsibility to employees with direct client contact will improve the treatment experience for clients, he said.

Estes also brought a different philosophy for growth: expand — but only to benefit clients.

“We intend not to grow for growth’s sake,” he said.

He said he plans to increase the variety of activities offered to residents and hopes residents — clients required to receive inpatient treatment for up to 28 days — will immerse themselves in painting, writing, and music as diversions from drugs and alcohol.

Estes’ plans impressed Shannon Wagner, who worked as a stand-in leader when Arthur Schut, the organization’s president for 25 years, stepped down to take a job in Colorado.

Wagner liked Estes’ determination to make MECCA “not just bigger, but better.”

“We saw that in action right when he got here,” she said.

Given the national financial situation, Estes’ leadership also focuses on community awareness and promotion. Traditional sources of funding — such as national grants — may not be readily available in the future.

More than half of MECCA’s $9 million budget comes from national sources, with the rest provided by state sources, client fees, and donations.

Estes plans to promote MECCA via increased TV and radio appearances, which may bring the organization more paying clients.

Changes also come from MECCA’s soon-to-be neighbor across the street: the Iowa City Shelter House, currently located at 331 N. Gilbert St. It’s important that substance abusers, who often suffer from mental illnesses that impair their ability to seek help, are made aware of both MECCA and the Shelter House, Estes said.

Shelter House often refers its clients — a third of whom are addicted to drugs or alcohol — to MECCA for treatment, said Director Crissy Canganelli.

Overall, Estes said, revisiting and reassessing MECCA’s mission and future plan is his goal.

“At the end of this, we’ll have a strong notion of who we are and where we’re going,” he said.

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