AbbeHealth president retiring

Dan Strellner leaves organization after 37 years

AbbeHealth president Dan Strellner is interviewed before a retirement reception in his honor at the Clark Alumni House at Coe College in northeast Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Thursday, Dec. 7, 2017. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — After 17 years as president and chief executive officer, Dan Strellner will retire from AbbeHealth at the end of this year.

Kathleen Horan will succeed Strellner as president and chief executive officer of the regional not-for-profit organization that offers mental health and aging services to more than 17,000 individuals in nine Eastern Iowa counties.

Horan, who will take over Strellner’s position effective Jan. 1, currently serves as vice president for AbbeHealth Aging Services and will continue to hold a position at Aging Services as executive director.

“We had the right folks in place for a succession plan and it just seemed like it was the right time,” said Strellner, who will turn 65 on Dec. 16.

A native of Van Horne, Strellner earned his bachelor’s degree in psychology from Coe College and a master’s in rehabilitation counseling from the University of Iowa.

After graduating in 1975, he went on work as a counselor at the Anamosa State Penitentiary — then called the Men’s Reformatory — and for a private insurance company, International Rehabilitation Associates.

Strellner joined AbbeHealth in 1980, working with adults with serious mental conditions such as bipolar disorder or severe depression. He went on to serve a variety of roles, including CEO of aging services for several years until he was named AbbeHealth president and chief executive in 2000.

“I’ve always had an interest in people and people’s behavior — hence the psychology degree from Coe — and trying to find a way to help folks adapt, adjust to having a mental health condition,” he said.

“I’ve always felt there’s a tremendous stigma against mental illness. That’s something we need to get better about working on, but it’s by no means resolved.”

On January of this year, AbbeHealth formally became an affiliate of UnityPoint Health-Cedar Rapids to better coordinate aging services, medical and behavioral health. The focus of the partnership, which Strellner said still is in an early phase, was to create an integrated health care system that focused on the whole person.

“The brain’s apart of the body and we need to treat it that way,” he said. “The best way to serve people is through an integrated approach, which pays attention to their physical health as well as their mental needs.”

Throughout his years in health care, Strellner has seen plenty of change in the system — from the de-institutionalism of mental health patients from state hospitals in the 1970s to the passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2010 to the most recent shift in Iowa’s Medicaid program to privatized managed care.

All of these have had major impacts on how providers treat patients, he said.

Strellner also has seen a shift in the approach to mental health patients by their care providers.

“There have been a lot of changes and I think part of that, on the mental health side of things, is the result of people becoming more aware and more accepting of that mental illness is really a medical condition,” he said. “It’s something that needs to be treated like a medical condition in an integrated way.”

Strellner will help AbbeHealth temporarily with the transition, but otherwise has no official plans for his retirement. Maybe he and his wife will travel to visit their son in Colorado and daughter in Texas, he said.

“The plan is right now not to have much of a plan,” he said.

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