CEO Sally Anne Schneider in front of Smokey Point Behavioral Hospital in Marysville. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

CEO Sally Anne Schneider in front of Smokey Point Behavioral Hospital in Marysville. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Hooked on hope, she chose behavioral therapy over law school

The new CEO of Smokey Point Behavioral Hospital plans to hire more staff and add services.

MARYSVILLE — Sally Anne Schneider, the new chief executive at Smokey Point Behavioral Hospital, credits her career choice to a nosy stranger at a Bellingham fish bar.

In 1984, Schneider, who had just earned a bachelor’s degree from Western Washington University, was discussing law school plans with a friend over lunch.

An attorney overheard the conversation and offered counsel. “Basically, he talked me out of going to law school,” Schneider said.

The chance encounter made Schneider rethink her career choice. She decided to pursue a master’s of science degree in marriage and family therapy.

“I always loved being a therapist,” she said. “You get to make an incredible difference in someone’s life.”

“So much of mental health is about hope,” said Schneider, 56, who was raised in St Louis and attended WWU in Bellingham.

“I got an exceptional education there,” she said.

Two months ago, she returned to the Northwest to lead the new Smokey Point Hospital. The hospital, which opened in June 2017, has been in start-up mode, she said. Now the priority is creating and maintaining a stable staff.

The psychiatric hospital provides mental health services and addiction treatment for children and adults. The 115-bed facility at 3955 156th St. NE in Marysville offers inpatient and outpatient care.

It’s owned by US HealthVest, which also operates mental health facilities in Illinois, Georgia and, now, Washington.

The company plans next year to open a psychiatric hospital in Lacey, its second location in this state.

Schneider replaces former CEO Matt Crocker, who resigned during the summer.

One of the areas for patients to meet in groups, hang out or watch TV at Smokey Point Behavioral Hospital in Marysville. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

One of the areas for patients to meet in groups, hang out or watch TV at Smokey Point Behavioral Hospital in Marysville. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Previously she was CEO of LifeCare Behavioral Health Hospital in Pittsburgh. Before that, she was chief behavioral health officer at Bartlett Regional Hospital in Juneau, Alaska.

The Smokey Point hospital is a welcome addition to the region, said Lisa Utter, executive director of the Snohomish County chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).

“North Snohomish County really needed additional capacity,” Utter said.

The NAMI chapter holds a support group at the hospital on Wednesdays that is open to anyone, Utter said. “They’ve been very supportive of us,” she said of Smokey Point Behavioral Hospital.

When plans for a psychiatric hospital in Snohomish County were announced in 2013, the county’s only inpatient psychiatric unit was at Swedish/Edmonds, a 23-bed facility that treats only adults. The closest inpatient facilities for children and adolescents were Fairfax Hospital in Kirkland, with 15 beds, and Seattle Children’s Hospital, with 20.

The Smokey Point hospital cares for patients with thoughts of harming themselves or others, severe depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and people who need treatment for both mental health issues and drug or alcohol problems, said Alicia Jacobs, the hospital’s community liaison.

Patients can stay up to 14 days. Longer stays can also be arranged.

The hospital can treat up to 14 patients ages 13 to 17 and “12-year-olds on a case-by-case basis,” Jacobs said.

A social worker from the hospital has begun making weekly visits to high schools in the Arlington and Lakewood districts at no cost to them.

Families can call the hospital day or night for free guidance on whether a child needs to be hospitalized, Jacobs said.

“We’re particularly happy about their adolescent services,” Utter said.

Location is everything, Schneider said.

When a hospital is in the community it serves, families are more likely to visit and be involved in care, she said.

Smokey Point Behavioral Hospital in Marysville is north Snohomish County’s only inpatient mental health and addiction treatment center. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Smokey Point Behavioral Hospital in Marysville is north Snohomish County’s only inpatient mental health and addiction treatment center. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

“The building itself is beautiful,” Schneider said.

The hospital’s interior blends cool blue and burnt-orange walls with wood floors. Patient rooms are small and bright, like a new college dormitory.

A small indoor gym features a stair-stepper, stationary bicycle and other exercise equipment.

Patients are treated in separate groups, depending on their age, background or the issues they’re facing.

For example, the hospital has a unit specializing in mental health care for those in the military — the only program of its kind in Washington.

The needs of traumatized women, for example, are different than those of active-duty military personnel experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder.

“Members of a women’s group may be less trusting and more fear-based,” she said. Establishing a safe environment is a key part of treatment.

Schneider hopes to expand inpatient youth services and raise the adolescent unit’s capacity to 20 patients.

Utter, head of the local NAMI chapter, said some community members are concerned that the hospital hasn’t gotten up to speed as quickly as hoped.

The hospital had planned to have all 115 beds available within eight months.

It’s currently operating at about 75 to 85 percent of capacity.

“They’ve acknowledged having difficulty in staffing to full capacity,” said Utter.

US HealthVest’s chief executive officer, Dr. Robert Kresch, said that staffing issues are to be expected at this early stage. Kresch spent 20 years as a psychiatrist at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center in New York.

“It’s hard work to open a hospital and get it competent and trained permanent staff,” he said. “In the early days you expect a fair amount of turnover.”

Schneider’s plans including hiring a chief of nursing, a nursing director and an educator.

On her wish list: Partnering with local colleges and universities.

“I want us to have internships and training sites for our local universities, and hopefully take psychiatric residents” from medical schools, she said.

On a personal note, Schneider looks forward to her own family moving here next spring from Pittsburgh. She has a husband and a son.

As for the Bellingham attorney, Schneider thinks she’s identified him.

“I’ve got to get up there and thank him,” she said.

Janice Podsada;; 425-339-3097; Twitter: JanicePods

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Business

Two couples walk along Hewitt Avenue around lunchtime on Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2022 in Lynnwood, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Everett businesses say it’s time the city had its own Chamber of Commerce

The state’s seventh-largest city hasn’t had a chamber since 2011. After 13 years, businesses are rallying for its return.

Students Mary Chapman, left, and Nano Portugal, right, work together with a fusion splicer and other equipment during a fiber optic technician training demonstration at Sno-Isle TECH Skills Center on Tuesday, May 28, 2024, in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Sno-Isle students on the path to becoming fiber professionals

The state will roll out $1.2 billion to close gaps in internet access. But not enough professionals are working to build the infrastructure.

Washingtonians lost $250M to scammers in 2023

Identity theft, imposter scams and phony online ads were the most common schemes, a new study says.

LETI founder and president Rosario Reyes, left, and LETI director of operations Thomas Laing III, right, pose for a photo at the former Paroba College in Everett, Washington on Saturday, June 1, 2024. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Woman brings Latino culture to business education in Snohomish County

Rosario Reyes spent the past 25 years helping other immigrants thrive. Now, she’s focused on sustaining her legacy.

Annie Crawley poses for a photo with her scuba gear at Brackett’s Landing near the Port of Edmonds on Saturday, Feb. 3, 2024 in Edmonds, Washington. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Edmonds ocean activist to kids: Life is better under the sea

From clownfish to kelp, Annie Crawley has been teaching kids and adults about the ocean’s wonders for three decades.

Reed Macdonald, magniX CEO. Photo: magniX
Everett-based magniX appoints longtime aerospace exec as new CEO

Reed Macdonald will take the helm at a pivotal time for the company that builds electric motors for airplanes.

People walk along a newly constructed bridge at the Big Four Ice Caves hike along the Mountain Loop Highway in Snohomish County, Washington on Wednesday, July 19, 2023. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Check out the best tourist attractions in Snohomish County

Here’s a taste of what to do and see in Snohomish County, from shopping to sky diving.

People walk out of the Columbia Clearance Store at Seattle Premium Outlets on Thursday, April 25, 2024 in Quil Ceda Village, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Head to Tulalip for retail recreation at Seattle Premium Outlets

The outlet mall has over 130 shops. You might even bring home a furry friend.

Brandon Baker, deputy director for the Port of Edmonds, shows off the port's new logo. Credit: Port of Edmonds
A new logo sets sail for the Port of Edmonds

Port officials say after 30 years it was time for a new look

Penny Clark, owner of Travel Time of Everett Inc., at her home office on Tuesday, April 23, 2024 in Arlington, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
In a changing industry, travel agents ‘so busy’ navigating modern travel

While online travel tools are everywhere, travel advisers still prove useful — and popular, says Penny Clark, of Travel Time in Arlington.

Travis Furlanic shows the fluorescent properties of sulfur tuft mushrooms during a Whidbey Wild Mushroom Tour at Tilth Farmers Market on Saturday, April 27, 2024 in Langley, Washington. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
On Whidbey Island, local fungi forager offers educational mushroom tours

Every spring and fall, Travis Furlanic guides groups through county parks. His priority, he said, is education.

ZeroAvia founder and CEO Val Mifthakof, left, shows Gov. Jay Inslee a hydrogen-powered motor during an event at ZeroAvia’s new Everett facility on Wednesday, April 24, 2024, near Paine Field in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
ZeroAvia’s new Everett center ‘a huge step in decarbonizing’ aviation

The British-American company, which is developing hydrogen-electric powered aircraft, expects one day to employ hundreds at the site.

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.