The 88th Congress in 1963 enacted P.L. 88-164 (the Community Mental Health Centers and Mental Retardation Facilities Act) which authorized federal matching funds of $150 million over a 3 year period for use by the states in constructing comprehensive community mental health centers. The legislation carried regulations prescribing the kinds of community mental health services needed and required each state to have a comprehensive plan to qualify for federal funds. The Kentucky Department of Health was designated by the Governor to administer these funds.

Early in 1964, a Mental Health Planning Commission was established by Governor Edward T. Breathitt which was responsible for devising a comprehensive long-range plan for developing a pattern of services for the citizens of Kentucky. Parallel to this group a Kentucky Mental Retardation Planning Commission was established and every effort was made to coordinate the two studies. 

Essentially the plan called for the establishment of programs on a regional basis. KRS 203.4 and 203.5 designated local non-profit boards as recipients of grant monies from the Department of Mental Health.

The Regional Boards, as the regional mental health-mental retardation authority, would have the highest possible degree of autonomy with the Kentucky Department of Mental Health’s major role as one of leadership in attracting and developing manpower, in conducting research, and in developing community interest. Initially 15 regions were designated for the state. Centers were required to offer 5 basic services: Inpatient, Outpatient, Partial Hospitalization, Emergency Service, and Consultation and Education

In the early 1960’s, Harriett Cartmell, then President of the Maysville Planning Commission, met with local leaders to discuss the mental health needs of the Maysville community. Mrs. Cartmell had gathered statistics regarding our regional population at Eastern State Hospital, divorce rates, juvenile court problems, suicide rates, etc. They contacted mental health services in Lexington, Louisville, Covington, requesting monthly contractual services. They could provide no help.

In 1964, the General Assembly passed a Community Mental Health Services Act which permitted cities or combinations of cities and counties to establish regional programs.

Mason, Robertson and Bracken were 3 of 9 counties in the Northern Kentucky Mental Health Regional Study Council. This group met every 2 weeks for 2 years in Covington. Representatives included 3 from Mason, 1 from Bracken, and 2 from Robertson Counties. Mrs. Cartmell, Mrs. Ed Griefenkamp and Mrs. Bonfield attended all those meetings. From 1964 – 1966 the members surveyed mental health needs, compiled statistics and developed a blueprint for services needed. 

By the summer of 1966, it became apparent that our 3 counties could not benefit from association with the other Northern Kentucky counties since they were so far away. An amendment to the Community Mental Health Services Act allowed Mason, Bracken, Robertson, Lewis and Fleming counties to become a region.

In November of 1966, Mrs. Cartmell called a public meeting of citizens of the five counties. It was well attended and the go ahead was given to develop services to meet our mental health needs.

In January of 1967, we were established as Comprehend, Inc. On February 20, 1967, the Articles of Incorporation and By-Laws were drawn up. We were chartered by the Secretary of the State of Kentucky on March 10, 1967. Board officers were elected on March 22, 1967: Harriett Cartmell, Chairman; Mrs. Paul Kelsch, Vice-Chairman, Mrs. Gladys McCartney, Secretary, and Mr. Harold Frodge, Treasurer.

Betsy Burke of the Fayette County (Lexington) Mental Health-Mental Retardation Board began working with our Board helping to gather information for preparation of a staffing grant. It was a period of study as board members tried to become knowledgeable about mental health and to educate the public. By mid-June 1968, the staffing grant was submitted.

On October 1, 1968, our first clinic was held. Sponsored by the Department of Mental Health, Dr. James Bland held a clinic at the Health Department for 4 patients. Later clinics were held, also at the Health Department, by a team from Eastern State Hospital consisting of a psychiatrist, social worker, and a nurse from the local Health Department. Volunteers helped at these clinics including Mrs. Cartmell and Mrs. Tommy Savage.

In January 1969, word was received that our staffing grant in the amount of $219,012 had been approved to begin July 1, 1969.

The Department of Mental Health was to advance $7,000 to get started. The first employee of Comprehend, Inc., Matt Amato, was employed as Administrator on May 1, 1969. Mr. Amato operated out of an office in the Health Department while facilities were considered for our use. Those mentioned were the dam site in Lewis County and the old K.U. Building in Maysville. The “Hord Building” in Maysville was offered for rent by Mrs. Cartmell’s mother, Rebecca Hord. Comprehend moved to the second floor of the Hord Building. On the first of July, Donald F. Tatro, Ph.D. was hired as Chief Psychologist. Also hired was Velma Carrigan as bookkeeper.

We received part-time help from Eastern State Hospital in the form of monthly clinics. There were no county offices. As people were hired for the other counties, they worked at the Hord Building and went out to their counties to visit patients and to educate the public..

By January 1970, we were providing out-patient services, had contracted with Fleming and Hayswood Hospitals. Our patient files were of course centralized. There were several early employees.

In July of 1970, Dr. Tatro was named Executive Director. Considerable headway was made during the next year. Offices were established in all counties and all positions were filled with the exception of a psychiatrist which was filled in October 1971. All of the five basis services were now being provided.

Our first Partial Hospitalization Program was held in the basement of the Presbyterian Church. Psychiatric clinics which had moved from the Health Department were now held at the Presbyterian Church. When the Partial Hospitalization Program was disbanded – clinics moved back to the Hord Building. The Partial Hospitalization Program eventually reopened and was located in the Caproni Building.

Emergency Services evolved from a phone line with Hayswood Hospital to a system of emergency workers.

Education and Consultation Services grew and the agency became involved in school contracts for testing, in-service, consultation, etc. Staff members spoke to most every civic group in the 5-county area.

The Drug and Alcohol Program grew with the employment of a coordinator, Floyd Sours.

Social Services grew with the mental health associates making home visits and the hiring of two MSW’s who acted as Area Team Social Workers in the county offices. Resocialization programs operated in three family care homes. The patient caseload grew through referrals from local physicians, social agencies, schools, and personal contact.

After receiving 4A funding, four day care centers for developmentally disabled children were started in September 1971 employing 8 teachers and teacher aides, and served 38 children. 

An Adult Work/Activity Program for developmentally disabled individuals age 16 and over began in June of 1972 in Mason County with like programs beginning in September in other counties. Comprehend provided a community habilitation program for the individuals once they graduated from the public school system.

Each year significant achievements were made so that Comprehend has evolved into a 10.5 million dollar budget, 50+ programs and 170 full/part-time staff who deliver a multitude of services in mental health, mental retardation/developmental disabilities and substance abuse prevention and treatment.