Blazing a Trail: Long-Time Prairie View Vice President Prepares to Leave

July 27, 2017

Newton, Kan. (July 27, 2017) – Dr. Mary Carman’s plan in 1975 was to work for Prairie View for two years, then move to the mountains. Instead, for forty-one years, she has been the rock on which many people have leaned for support, hope and mental wellness.

Carman, a licensed psychologist and vice president of Older Adult Services and director of Telehealth Services, will enter a new stage of life August 5 – one that includes camping, photography, spending time with her children and grandchildren, and possibly some part-time private practice work.

Growing up the daughter of the founder and director of Dakota Zoo in Bismarck, N.D., it was not unusual for Carman to care for the wellbeing of many wild animals at her home. She also had close relationships with her grandmothers, one of whom depended on Carman for care. It was a toss-up for her: would she become a veterinarian or enter the field of psychology?

“It just seemed like no one else was interested in working with the older adult population,” says Carman. “In those days, you had to carve your own way, and there was a need there.”

Carman helped to build Prairie View’s older adult program by recruiting, retaining, nurturing and maintaining the largest older adult staff among mental health facilities in the state of Kansas. Yet she didn’t begin by working with the older adult population.

She had interned with the Wichita Collaborative Internship Program at the VA and the Child Guidance Center in Wichita before hearing about a job opening for a child clinician at Prairie View-Newton. When she arrived for her interview, she entered a room full of men. At that time, there was one female clinician at Prairie View who worked as a social worker in the McPherson office. After leaving that day, she asked herself why they would hire her based on her responses, lack of involvement in a church at the time, and her desire for having children of her own someday, and decided that if they did make an offer, she wouldn’t accept it.

Yet I would talk to others and hear them say Prairie View is a wonderful place with an excellent reputation.”

So when she was offered the job, she accepted.

“I really enjoyed working on the children’s team.” Given her interest in working with the older adult population, she was also able to see older adults for a half-day each week.

In her second year of employment, she was asked to oversee the Child and Adolescent Day Hospital, a position she held for a year in addition to seeing clients. When she was ready to go on maternity leave with her first child, she was asked to direct an aging program, and she accepted the challenge.

Her professional life was never the same again. In addition to developing an older adult client base, she took part in a Prairie View program called Family Life Enrichment, in which she would present to churches and community groups in Harvey, Marion and McPherson counties on topics related to aging. It was a way to educate and raise awareness.

“Sometimes people didn’t need our services right away, but three years later, someone would call, say they heard me speak, and want to see me.”

Some workshops were held over three to five weeks, such as Wisdom, Worries and Wrinkles. Three-hour long presentations took place on the Newton campus once a week. Topics included depression dementia, spirituality and life tasks or aging. Also, a local physician came and talked about common physical problems and how they related to mental health.

Gradually, more staff were hired to work with the older adult population, partly due to Prairie View’s psychology internship program (part of the Wichita Collaborative Psychology Internship Program) in which she was one of the primary supervisors for a number of years. The internship program is only one of few in the country that include a rotation working with the older adult population.

Carman has always been appreciative of the opportunity to try new things at Prairie View. Thanks to her contributions and leadership, Prairie View began administering driving capacity evaluations using the Useful Field of View computer program. She also led the development of the Comprehensive Diagnostic and Treatment Center for Older Adults and the Comprehensive Outpatient Evaluation, programs intended to help older adults navigate multiple mental or emotional and physical symptoms.

She is responsible for starting clinics in long-term care facilities so mental health services could be provided to residents, developing dementia-care units in area long-term care facilities and implementing ongoing training for staff in these units, and developing services to assist caregivers.

She was instrumental in bringing Prairie View, Caring Hands Humane Society, Wichita State University and the Harvey County Department on Aging together to begin the Older Adult Pet Adoption (OAPA) program in which older adults can adopt a dog at no charge, be paired with a volunteer, and not worry about the animal’s welfare if something should happen to the individual. And when she learned of clients who didn’t meet the age requirement for OAPA but would still benefit from an animal companion used for therapy purposes, Carman and fellow Prairie View staff began the Companions for Life program with their own donations and time.

Carman led Prairie View Health Connections, a health home program that the state of Kansas initiated in July 2014 and discontinued two years later. The health home program was a system of care coordination to better organize all health-related services for eligible Medicaid members. Health home services led to integration by providing comprehensive care management, care coordination, health promotion, comprehensive transitional care, patient and family support, and referrals to community and social support services.

Most recently, Carman has been instrumental in launching telehealth services at Prairie View.

“Our profession is perfect for it,” she says. “We’re talking to people. It’s good for patients and good for organizations. It’s exciting because we can provide faster and better services in a more efficient manner.”

Better health outcomes and decreased emergency room visits are also benefits to telemedicine. Prairie View-McPherson and crisis services at Prairie View-Newton currently provide telehealth services.

It’s these accomplishments and passionate dedication to older adults and the mental health field that have led others to admire Carman.

“I have admired Dr. Mary Carman from the moment I met her. I immediately recognized that she was a trailblazer in a world dominated by men,” says Jessie Kaye, Prairie View’s president and CEO. “Throughout her career, she has been a fierce advocate for system improvements, within Prairie View and across the state and national healthcare systems. She has devoted decades of service to those experiencing mental illness and facing the challenges that can come with advancing age. Mary has mentored many clinicians and guided administrators with skill and deep compassion. There’s no doubt in my mind that Prairie View is better because of her contributions. We will continue to experience her influence for years to come.”

Carman has served on the boards of Hospice and Home Health, Presbyterian Manors of Mid-America, Bethel Hospital, Newton Medical Center and Midland National Bank. She has served on the Newton Presbyterian Manor Advisory Committee and Prairie View’s Management Team, Leadership Team and Safety Committee.

Carman is a recipient of the America Association of Homes for the Aging Distinguished Service Award and the Irene Hart Award from Central Plains Area Agency on Aging. She was also one of the 1985 Newton Area Women of the Year. She will accept the Albert Bandura Lifetime Achievement Award in August from the Wichita Collaborative Psychology Internship Program.

But most of all, Carman is recipient of the kindness shown to her by clients.

“Clients are the best teachers in the world,” she says. “They have taught me resiliency, how to have a lot of courage, and certainly how to be a better therapist.”

While she will be remembered for developing Prairie View’s older adult program, mentoring staff, modulating the need for fiscal responsibility versus the needs of the organization’s clients and staff, and being willing to do anything that was asked of her, she wants her clients to simply remember this: “That I care about them and tried everything I could to help them on their journey and their progress to wellness.”

To learn more about Prairie View or to schedule an appointment with a mental health professional, phone 800-992-6292.