Whitlatch follows family into social work

PARKERSBURG – Lakin Whitlatch has followed generations of her family into social work.

“My grandmother worked here about 40 years ago and now I’m here doing the same work she did,” Whitlatch said.

Whitlatch has been a discharge coordinator at Westbrook Health Services in Parkersburg since last August.

As part of her legacy, Whitlatch’s mother, father and grandmother before her worked at Westbrook as well. The agency was known as Western District Guidance Center back when her grandmother, Donna Schmidt, worked there. Schmidt was once featured in a profile in The Parkersburg News. She also worked as a discharge coordinator and assisted with setting up the Jackson County Mental Health Clinic Program back then.

Whitlatch’s parents, mom Kelli Makuta, worked with clients in the Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities Services, and her dad, Clay, also worked in MRDD, in fact that’s where the two met.

“I’ve grown up around the idea of helping others. I feel this field chose me, honestly. It’s rewarding to go home after work and know that I helped someone feel better about themselves or helped them through a difficult situation,” Whitlatch said.

Whitlatch said after school at Criss Elementary, she would walk over to the center to see her parents.

“So I was familiar with Westbrook and the concept of mental illness, but I never realized the scope of the services, how many people need the services and are here everyday. When I was here waiting for my job interview, I was so impressed with the way the counselors treated their clients. It was like they were old friends,” she said.

A 2008 Parkersburg High School graduate, Whitlatch received her bachelor’s degree in psychology from West Virginia University in 2012 and has been employed as a discharge coordinator at Westbrook since graduation. As part of her job, she follows up with patients after they are discharged from psychiatric facilities.

“I help them reintegrate into the community. They may need help obtaining employment. I do home visits, go to appointments with them and make sure medication is being taken, connecting them with outside agencies and maintaining regular contact. The main goal is to keep the client out of the hospital. For some, all that means is a phone call every other week to talk about any problems they may be having,” Whitlatch said.

Whitlatch said she sees a lot of her grandmother reflected in herself.

“I see her optimism and dedication to her loved ones. I inherited her need to help others. She taught me to listen, listen, listen and that a smile can go a long way. I’d have to say that the best thing I’ve learned from my Mamaw, that is always helpful with my clients,” Whitlatch said.

Whitlatch said the thing she likes most about her job is her clients.

“I enjoy getting out in the community with them, going for a walk around the park, grabbing a bite to eat or running errands with them around town. With my job I am able to work with my clients outside of the office, which is great because it helps them realize I am just another person in their community and allows for both of us to feel more comfortable around one another,” Whitlatch said.

“I work directly with our therapists and counselors, the doctors, case managers, our pharmacy, financial department, medical records, each and every department, to make sure we are providing the best services we can offer to our clients. We are one big team at Westbrook. We have clients that are here every day participating in the programs we offer. They become family,” Whitlatch said.

Elizabeth Ford with Westbook said the agency is fortunate to have employees like Whitlatch and her family members who dedicated their lives to behavioral health.

“We feel blessed that the tradition of giving was passed from her grandmother to Lakin, and between the two of them so many lives have been positively impacted,” Ford said.