5 questions with Amy Ellis

Published on August 01, 2017

Amy Ellis

Amy Ellis recently took over the reins of the Adult System of Care in the Health and Human Services Department as its new director. But Ellis is no stranger to Placer County, having worked here since 2001 and lived here since childhood. 

She took the time to answer a few questions about her love affair with Placer County, and how she’s been able to grow within our organization. 

Tell us about your background.

A lot of my background is right here in Placer County. I grew up in Roseville — we’re actually one of the long-term Roseville families. My mom, dad and seven siblings all went to Roseville High School. 

I went away for school, at Brigham Young University, and then did my master's program for marriage and family therapy in Nebraska [at University of Nebraska-Lincoln].

I came back to Placer right out of finishing my master’s, thrilled to return home, starting out with our Children’s System of Care.

How did you transition to the adult side of things? 

I worked for Children’s System of Care for five years. I worked with children and families who were struggling in school, and really loved it. I was able to go into people's homes, and learn about community-based mental health. It was great experience. Eventually, I wanted to learn about more populations. 

I interviewed again with the Adult System of Care and was offered a position in the “day reporting center,” which was a joint venture between HHS and probation. I provided group and individual therapy to probationers in need of substance use and mental health treatment. The goal was to help clients stay in recovery, not re-offend, and be able to finish their terms of probation without going to jail. I loved working with the criminal justice population. After this direct service, I was promoted to supervisor, and worked in multiple programs throughout the Adult System of Care. 

One thing that I’m proud of as a clinician is that I don’t have one “type” of population I prefer over the rest. I like working with kids, I like working with families, I like working with substance abusers, I like working with the severely mentally ill — there's really not a population I don't want to work with. I just like helping people, and I find the variety really engaging. Placer County has been amazing for me to develop as a clinician and gain experience due to the many services offered here. The clients from various programs all need something similar from their care provider: a desire to care and connect with them, try to understand what they need and get those needs met.

So you’ve been with Placer County essentially your whole career! What advice would you give to other employees about growing within the organization?

Make sure you stay creative and keep looking outward, as well as looking inward. You can grow, promote, develop and reach your goals here. But you can’t stay focused on “this is how we’ve always done it; this is what Placer does.” You have to look outwards at how others are doing things and re-evaluate, and sometimes do things differently. I think some people move around to different organizations to get a different perspective, but you don’t have to — you can stay right here (in the best county!) and be open to growth. 

What keeps you motivated?

It’s inspiring to hear client stories— to hear people speaking up about what has worked for them, have our staff adopt that, and see it work. That's really exciting because you're innovating and becoming better and more effective through real feedback from the people who actually live it.

What’s been great about working in drug and alcohol [most recently, prior to becoming director], is that when people enter recovery, there's a dramatic change. You get to watch and be a part of their transformation. Their face changes, their world changes, their happiness levels change. They express their gratitude for the daily things, things that I sometimes take for granted. They inspire me to be a better person, through hearing their stories. It helps me stay grounded. We're lucky that we get to do what we do.

What are you looking forward to working on?

Around 60-80 percent of the mental health clients we serve have a co-occurring substance use disorder. It's difficult because substance use disorder specialized programs don't usually have a lot of expertise in severe mental health, and severe mental health professionals don't usually have a lot of expertise with substance use. So there’s a struggle: How do you best serve somebody who has both? I’ve spent probably the last five or six years of my career grappling with that, researching and hearing other people's beliefs about what works best. It's more complicated than people may think. People say “Oh, it should just be integrated,” but it's not that simple. We’ve been moving closer to being an integrated system over the last three years, designing services with different levels of care that are tailored to unique individuals’ needs. We’ve also been working with our providers to build their expertise and ensure they are prepared and capable to serve the needs of clients. Building those relationships and solving problems together is something I really want to continue to focus on. It’s something that Placer does really well. 

There are many other programs in the Adult System of Care beyond behavioral health (such as In-Home Supportive ServicesPublic Authority, etc.). I am looking forward to learning more about those programs and helping to lead and integrate services for adults and ease access into needed and life-saving services.