Courtesy Dennis Hansen
With the recent retirement of Dennis Hansen, former director of The Refuge Utah, a significant void has been left in Utah County. Hansen was a leader in mental health, women and children’s support in the area’s nonprofit sector.
Hansen, 73, says he has seen a lot of changes over the past 50 years, some good and some less so.
“There has been an increase in funding, but that doesn’t always match the increase in population,” Hansen said. “There have been strides in how women are treated when they come forward with an allegation (of abuse). I think we have come so far but then cases arise that show we haven’t.”
Hansen, who retired Dec. 31, said over he has seen the needs for funding in so many areas over the years, but Utah doesn’t fund as it should and they end up having to deal with federal money. He also said the stigma of mental health has improved.
“Suicide and teen suicide is more talked about and people openly acknowledge it. That’s an improvement. We have a lot of expectations on us. These are uncertain times.”
Courtesy Dennis Hansen
“There have been improvements made, and more resources, but it is still not enough,” Hansen added.
In Utah County there is a lower ratio of shelter facilities compared to people’s needs than the rest of the state. “For every bed we have in shelters, there are 2,800 people that need it.”
More shelters are needed, according to Hansen. He believes one of his greatest accomplishments is taking a shelter facility that was $30,000 in the hole and, with the help of a local philanthropist, was able to make it a financially healthy nonprofit.
“We’re in good shape now,” Hansen said. He added that he has taken that rundown facility and improved it and added transitional apartments, meeting areas and modernized the facility.
Hansen’s career in mental health services began nearly 50 years ago. In 1973, he began working at the Utah State Hospital. When he received his bachelor of science in sociology in 1975, he was part of the forensic evaluation team. He graduated in the inaugural class of graduating social workers from the part-time Master of Social Program from University of Utah in 1981.
He first began working as an out-patient therapist with Wasatch Mental Health while still at the Utah State Hospital to gain the clinical hours required to become a licensed clinical social worker and psychiatric social worker at the Utah State Hospital — where he eventually became a program director and then the administrative director. He later became the program director at the HSA Riverwood Hospital and then at Charter Canyon Hospital, both in Provo. He later became the executive director of The Gathering Place, a nonprofit outpatient substance abuse center.
While he was the division director of children and family services at Wasatch Mental Health and the director of Heber Valley Counseling in Wasatch County, Hansen became the executive director of the Utah County Crisis Line and the Center for Women and Children in Crisis — now The Refuge Utah — which was the first domestic violence shelter in Utah County.
“Dennis has been a major part of the human services world in Utah County,” said Bill Hulterstrom, president and CEO of United Way of Utah County. “I have worked with him for many years from early in his career through his time at both The Gathering Place and the domestic violence shelter. His expertise and passion have made a difference for so many people in our community, and the difference he has made is felt well beyond just one place. His compassion and abilities have permeated many aspects of the treatment and support resources in our community.”
Hansen has served on many local and national committees and advisory councils focused on helping those with substance abuse or domestic violence issues. He has consistently sought out additional education to further understand the needs of those he serves and has spent time as an instructor in the Social Work program at Brigham Young University.
Over his career in clinical and administrative work in mental health services, Hansen has focused on developing partnerships and collaborations to strengthen and build up the resources available to those in need. He recognizes a need and then works passionately, and quietly, to improve the lives of those around him.
“His leadership in mental health, addiction recovery, suicide prevention and victim prevention and treatment services has spanned more than four decades and has impacted tens of thousands of Utah residents both directly and indirectly,” said Curtis Pendleton, senior director of sponsored programs at Utah Valley University. “His ability to inspire others to become engaged in making the community a better place lies primarily in the long-term impact and beneficial outcomes that are manifest in the lives that have been touched by his more than 40-year professional career.”
Hansen said he will miss working with the people, particularly members of his staff that have stayed by him as long as 25 years.
As for bucket list of retirement options, Hansen would like to feed his other passion, working with animals, particularly wild animals in Africa.
“I’d love to go to Africa to work in animal sanctuaries,” Hansen said. He has spent part of his vacation time over that past few years going to Africa to be with the animals.
Hansen said he is going to find something, a new passion. “Part of my being is to be involved.”