As CEO, Gail Lapidus drove the transformation of what had been a small family services provider to one with a greater emphasis on mental health.
Gail Lapidus, who has dedicated 38 years of service as President and CEO of Family & Children’s Services (F&CS), has set her retirement effective December 2023. Her tenure has spanned nearly half of F&CS’s century-long existence.
In 1974, Lapidus commenced her career at F&CS as a young case manager, working with low-income children and families in Tulsa’s public housing. She later pursued a master’s degree in social work at the University of Oklahoma, developing a strong interest in family therapy.
Eager to learn more about this emerging field, she proactively sought out renowned worldwide pioneers to come to Tulsa to train F&CS staff and other professionals. Subsequently, the groundbreaking marriage and family therapy program at F&CS was born. Around that same time, as the rates of child sexual abuse increased, F&CS worked with others across the country to develop a new sexual abuse treatment program.
In the subsequent years, Lapidus took on progressively more significant roles in the agency which culminated in her notable appointment in 1986 as the Executive Director of a small yet influential family service agency with a $1 million budget, 27 employees, and two locations.
Today, F&CS operates with a budget of $153 million, a diverse workforce of 1,200 employees, and an extensive portfolio of 64 distinct programs, serving one in six Tulsans. The organization has focused on accessibility, establishing a network of eight accessible locations in the city, complemented by 25 co-located sites within various organizations to address mental health needs. Many children’s mental health needs are met through partnerships with 60 schools and 9 Head Start sites. The agency provides care for 25% of seriously mentally ill adults in the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health Substance Abuse Services client count system.
Lapidus’s vision played a pivotal role in the remarkable evolution of the agency, elevating it from a small family service provider to the largest outpatient community mental health center in the state. This achievement has been realized through a number of collaborations and partnerships to solve issues bigger than one individual organization.
By working together, pooling resources, and bringing different subject matter experts together innovative solutions have been developed providing a more holistic support system for those in need.
These efforts have strengthened the safety net for the most vulnerable members of our community, resulting in new programs, improved access to services, and the implementation of a comprehensive approach to mental health. By bringing together resources and expertise through these partnerships, F&CS has leveraged innovative solutions to create a more comprehensive support system for individuals in need. These collaborative efforts have made significant strides in enhancing overall well-being, improving the quality of life, and reinforcing the safety net for our community’s most vulnerable individuals.
These collective endeavors are specifically aimed at addressing the rising rates of mental illness, adverse childhood experiences, the growing prevalence of major depression and suicide, homelessness, and mental health crises within our community.
“The board is immensely grateful for Gail’s unwavering commitment to Family & Children’s Services and the broader community. Her passion, leadership and vision have been the driving force behind the transformation of the agency but also for the lives of countless individuals in the Tulsa area. Behind all her work is a deep commitment to providing the highest quality of services for the underserved. Her unwavering dedication serves as a beacon of hope that positive change is not only possible but also achievable. We salute Gail as a true visionary,” said Clint Swanson, F&CS board chair, “and her enduring legacy will continue to inspire and help generations to come.”
“Lapidus firmly believes in the capacity for people to change and triumph over adversity. She champions second chances and IS INSPIRED BY our clients’ remarkable resilience in the face of seemingly insurmountable challenges, losses, and trauma,” said Swanson.
A few notable achievements spanning her career include:
- Adopting a new model of care as a Certified Community Behavioral Health Center (CCBHC). This model is shown to improve outcomes for clients who can receive new and expanded mental health services, physical healthcare coordination, and robust social services made possible by new Medicaid financing. CCBHC is designed to meet the needs of adults and children with complex mental health or substance use issues, chronic health conditions, and pressing economic and social burdens like insufficient food, housing, basic needs, transportation, and social support.
- In response to the high rate of female incarceration, in partnership with the George Kaiser Family Foundation, F&CS developed Women in Recovery, an intensive outpatient treatment alternative in lieu of incarceration for drug-related offenses.
- Creation of a comprehensive continuum of crisis services including COPES hotline and mobile crisis teams, co-responder crisis teams with Tulsa Police and Tulsa Fire Departments, 988 mobile crisis teams, embedded in the 911 center and a CrisisCare Center facility for rapid crisis stabilization or short-term care.
- Partnerships with area school districts and community action program to meet the growing mental health needs of children, teens and their families.
- To increase access to physical health care, a partnership with Morton Comprehensive Health Services was developed to embed a Morton medical clinic in our largest mental health facility.
- Established specialized programs for first-episode psychosis, maternal postpartum mental health, substance use disorders, criminal justice diversion, transitional care, suicide prevention and intervention, and many more.
- Established an inhouse pharmacy to reduce barriers for our client’s needing medication.
- Conducted four capital campaigns and raised over $34 million dollars for four new facilities.
Throughout her illustrious career, Lapidus has consistently sought solutions to the issues and hardships faced by our clients. She possesses a unique ability to envision creative solutions, embrace evidence-based models, and craft and execute comprehensive strategies.
“As I reflect on my decades of service to the most vulnerable populations as CEO, I am acutely aware that it takes an exceptional team of staff, a dedicated board of directors, generous donors and funders, and collaborative partners to ensure our clients can overcome insurmountable challenges,” Lapidus stated. “It has been my great privilege to serve as the President and CEO of F&CS.”
Excerpt originally published in Tulsa World.
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Gail Lapidus said one of her proudest achievements while at F&CS involved children’s mental health. Under her, F&CS established itself as a pioneer agency in Oklahoma in recognizing the impact of trauma on children and addressing it through evidence-based treatments.
Lapidus spearheaded the agency’s first grant proposal (with the National Child Traumatic Stress Network) for funding interventions, and it was followed by other grants.
“I remember the excitement when we received that first grant because it allowed us to become a pivotal player in spreading the impact of (trauma-focused therapy),” she said. “The success of this therapy was recognized and acknowledged and eventually led to its funding by the state for children’s mental health services.”
Lapidus added: “In a world where trauma can shatter lives, we were the ones who extended a lifeline, offering hope, healing, and a brighter future to those who needed it most. I’m proud of how we not only set a precedent but also contributed to a more comprehensive approach to children’s mental health in Oklahoma.”