BRATTLEBORO -- Health Care and Rehabilitation Services Chief Executive Officer Judith Hayward will be leaving the agency after 17 years and George Karabakakis will be taking over as head of HCRS, effective Jan. 1.
Hayward will be staying on as chief executive officer emeritus, working alongside Karabakais, until her retirement in June.
About six or seven years ago Hayward told Karabakakis that she would be heading toward retirement in the coming years and the two worked closely together since then to ensure there would be a smooth transition when she eventually was ready to step down.
"We have already picked a successor and George has been right by my side for the past couple of years," Hayward said. "It was time."
Hayward arrived at HCRS in 1997 when the organization was facing very difficult economic challenges, Board President J. Allen Dougherty said, and she was able to both turn that around and establish a long list of new programs that have become models for other mental health agencies across the state.
"During her tenure as chief executive officer HCRS has moved from being a struggling, all but bankrupt institution, to the mature, well functioning organization it is today," Dougherty said. "We will sorely miss her."
Hayward said she decided it was time to step down after recently completing a number of high profile programs at HCRS.
In 2013 HCRS merged Kindle Farm School into its organization after helping to manage the alternative school for a number of years.
Also, after addressing a number of local zoning and neighbor concerns in Westminster, in 2013 HCRS opened Hilltop Recovery Residence , a residential facility for young people who are dealing with their first experiences with mental health issues.
"Judith's 17 year tenure as CEO has led the agency to significant growth and some of the most innovative programming in Vermont," Dougherty said. "Her legacy, which has been developed piece by piece and layer by layer will hold the agency in good stead for many years to come."
Hayward is credited with helping start the Police Social Work Program in Bellows Falls, which matches local law enforcement officers with mental health counselors to help with domestic issues.
The program is now being supported in communities around the state.
When Hayward arrived at HCRS the organization has revenues of $13.6 million and a payroll of $9.3 million.
In fiscal year 2013 the organization took in $41.1 million and payroll had grown to $21.1 million.
Hayward also oversaw major renovations to the agency's 30,000-square-foot office in Springfield and upgrades to the Brattleboro office.
"I've accomplished all I set out to do and it felt like it was the right time to make the transition," Hayward said. "It's a lot of responsibility to answer for an agency of 700 employees and I am ready to have someone else do that."
Karabakakis has been with HCRS for about 20 years, heading a number of the organization's programs during that time.
"Judith is a remarkable woman. She has been a mentor and a guide and we have worked very closely together," Karabakakis said. "She has shown a lot of courage, and has really provided a strong voice in making sure we were focused on creating a strong connection between physical and mental health. She has inspired a lot of people to live more healthy and positive lives."
Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; or 802-254-2311, ext. 279. You can follow Howard on Twitter @HowardReformer.