Fairfax’s Diversion First Manager, Laura Yager, Leaves Solid Foundation Behind In Retirement

(9-10-18) Laura Yager, who was responsible for managing Fairfax County’s Diversion First program, is retiring after 32 years of public service.

On several occasions, I referred parents to Laura and she always did her best to help them. She has been and (undoubtedly) will continue to be a champion for individuals in need of help.

Sheriff Stacey A. Kincaid was the first to push for creation of Diversion First, a jail diversion program for people living with mental illnesses, developmental disabilities, and co-occurring substance use disorders. Board of Supervisor Chair Sharon Bulova, Supervisor John C. Cook, former CSB Executive Director Tisha Deegan and Police Chief Colonel Edwin C. Roessler Jr. were quick to get behind the sheriff’s campaign.

Together, these leaders crafted the Diversion First skeleton and wisely chose retired Air Force General Gary Ambrose and Laura Yager to put meat on those bones. Both have done a masterful job.

Consider these statistics as of January 2018 :

. 403 individuals diverted in the previous twelve months rather than being jailed.

• 451 law enforcement officers were certified in the 40-hour Crisis Intervention Team training.

• 468 Sheriff’s deputies and correctional health nurses completed the eight-hour Mental Health First Aid training as did all magistrates.

• 606 Fire and Rescue personnel completed a four-hour Mental Health First Aid training, tailored by the CSB for their needs.

• 117 9-1-1 call takers (dispatchers) completed eight hours of customized crisis intervention training.

Equally impressive, two years after it was launched, Diversion First was recognized as a national model. Laura has left a solid foundation for the program’s newly selected manager, Lisa Potter.

Here are a few well deserved accolades from those who have worked with Laura.

Gary Ambrose:

From the program’s early planning stages in the summer of 2015 to the present, Laura has played the pivotal leadership role. She looked for what needed to be done and she made good things happen. A bundle of energy who thrives under pressure, everything was “her job.” If Laura found an issue—from resources to policy changes—she worked the solution until all that was required was a decision. Her vision, interpersonal skills, and creative resourcing produced a program that has received national recognition.

As a result of her work, more than 1000 people have been diverted to treatment to date, and thousands of police, Fire and Rescue personnel, dispatchers, magistrates, and other County officials and residents have received vital mental health training that affords them the tools to identify persons with mental health issues and humanely address the situation.

Laura has led Diversion First’s growth from a pre-arrest diversion focus to a program that offers opportunities for diversion and treatment once an offender enters the court system, and beyond. Now the program’s sights are set on post-release services to insure that diverted persons have what they need to succeed.

The effects of this growth? Diversion First has facilitated enhanced cooperation between Law Enforcement, the Sheriff’s staff, Fire and Rescue, County human services, the courts, and other public and private entities. In the long term, the legacy of Laura’s work is anticipated to be: better outcomes for persons with mental illness, developmental disabilities, and co-occurring substance use disorders; enhanced public safety for both County residents and Law Enforcement; and meaningful resource savings. Not bad!

Supervisor Chair Sharon Bulova:

Diversion First would not be the success it has become without the incredible support of Laura Yager.  Her professional expertise matched with unsurpassed energy and enthusiasm has been the secret ingredient for moving us forward.

Supervisor John C. Cook:

“Laura Yager has managed, more than any person involved with Fairfax County’s Diversion First program, to push the initiatives through and get things done. She has worked with many different personalities, always managing to bring this diverse group together. Like herding cats, Laura has pushed, pulled and tugged the envelope, finding funds, promoting Diversion First nation-wide, making Fairfax County’s Diversion First program the envy of the nation, all with a smile! She has made a significant contribution to Diversion First and she will be sorely missed.”

Sheriff Stacey A. Kincaid:

The Sheriff’s Office will truly miss Laura Yager, our friend and colleague. As a strong, creative and engaging leader, she motivates us to match her passion and meet her high expectations. When others say no, she works toward the yes. With Laura on our team, we have found solutions to the most pressing health care issues facing our county. Her self-deprecating manner makes us laugh but never distracts us from a task at hand. She is genuine. She cares. She puts service above self. Any local government, nonprofit organization or business would be lucky to have her on their leadership team. I wish her the very best in all her future endeavors.

Colonel Edwin C. Roessler Jr.:

Through the decades of her service to the community and fellow employees, Laura has exemplified passion, compassion, and love for all in their times of need. She continues to be my hero and mentor as she knows her noble calling in life.  Her legacy shall continue to motivate us. 

The Honorable Penney S. Azcarate, 19th Judicial Circuit in Virginia. 

Laura has been instrumental in assisting with the Veteran Treatment Docket and the newly established Drug Court. She worked as a great liaison between the judges and CSB. No task was too big or too small for her to tackle. I knew if I had a problem, I could call Laura and she would take care of it regardless if it was her responsibility. She assisted numerous times in getting funding and positions for both the docket and drug court. An old saying states that those who say it can’t be done need to get out of the way of those that are doing it; that is Laura in a nutshell. She will truly be missed!

Daryl Washington, Executive Director of the Fairfax-Falls Church Community Services Board:

Laura Yager served as the inaugural Director for the Fairfax County Diversion First effort.   Under her leadership significant change occurred across the county. The Merrifield Crisis response center opened, which allowed individuals to receive a mental health assessment and services rather than go to the Adult Detention Center.  Other efforts included over 700 law enforcement officers trained in CIT, and over 800 individuals diverted from potential arrest.  Laura’s skill was in constantly pushing the status quo.  She would brining individuals together from multiple different agencies and keep everyone focused on why Diversion First was created.  When in a room with Laura your, “rank” was respected, but didn’t keep her from asking and sometimes demanding action to be taken.  She was the right person to get this critical effort launched in Fairfax County, and the spirit she helped create and legacy will remain far beyond her departure as a county employee.

Thank you Laura for helping improve the lives of so many. You have given proof to the popular Margaret Mead quote:

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.

 

About the author:

Pete Earley is the bestselling author of such books as The Hot House and Crazy. When he is not spending time with his family, he tours the globe advocating for mental health reform.

Learn more about Pete.