12/07/09 — New director takes job at O'Berry Center

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New director takes job at O'Berry Center

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on December 7, 2009 1:46 PM

A new director has been appointed at O'Berry Neuro-Medical Treatment Center, following the Oct. 1 retirement of Dr. Frank Farrell, who worked there 34 years.

Deborah Exum, assistant to the director at O'Berry for the past three years, is the new chief.

Mrs. Exum is a Wayne County native with more than 23 years of experience in serving the developmentally disabled population. She has worked at O'Berry since 1994 and previously served as a unit director, community services specialist and group home director.

Her education background includes a master's degree in administration and an undergraduate degree in psychology. In anticipation of O'Berry's transition to a neuro-medical treatment center, she became a licensed nursing home administrator.

The application process took several months. And despite having the history and experience needed for the new role, Mrs. Exum admits her initial reaction was one of shock.

"Then I felt very honored," she said. "I began thinking about our future here and how I was going to present that to the families and to the staff because leaders have changed.

"I have to say it's exciting and it's an honor to have been appointed in this position."

As a lifelong advocate for people with disabilities, Mrs. Exum said her career remains dedicated to that end.

"I believe in the (Department of Health and Human Services) Secretary's plan and O'Berry's mission, I want to continue to be part of this exciting journey that we're on," she said.

The new director said she is relaxing into the "typical learning curve" as she begins to envision the future.

"My immediate goal is to meet with the staff. I'm planning to have some employee forums with them to discuss our mission and to give them an opportunity to have input and ask questions," she said. "I want to assist them as much as I can as they provide support and quality care to the individuals we serve."

She said she is fortunate to have an "exemplary staff" that understands the value of a team concept. But moreso, she said, it's all about the individuals served at the center and continuing to maintain a quality of life and homelike environment for them.

One of her first duties will be to choose a replacement for her former position.

"Right now we're in the process of evaluating how we're going to structure ourselves organizationally as we prepare ourselves to transition into our new mission as a neuro-medical treatment center," she said. "Until the assistant director's role is filled, I have delegated some of the responsibilities I previously held to other deputy directors."

She also plans to build upon Dr. Farrell's efforts of community involvement at the center.

"We want to continue to enhance our positive relationship with the community and even enhance it," she said. "There's lots of relationships that we want to continue -- the community, families, guardians and definitely with our staff and medical providers."

Mrs. Exum, a wife and mother of two, does not take lightly the fact that she is the first female director at the center, which celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2007.

"I worked my way up at O'Berry (and) learned a lot about the different departments and services that we already provide," she said. "Having that knowledge base has helped me make some of the decisions I have had to make thus far.

"This is an exciting journey and one that I want to walk alongside the staff because we don't want to lose focus on why we are here. It's about the individuals that we serve."