Carrie Dyer to take helm of Reliance Health in August

Norwich — A leadership succession plan in the works for 13 years at Reliance Health has been put in action, with a vote Monday night, when the nonprofit agency that serves people with mental illness named 25-year employee Carrie Dyer as the successor to its first and only executive director so far, David Burnett.

Dyer, 46, who has served as the organization's chief operating officer since 2007, called Reliance Health the only place she wanted to work since the day she walked into the agency’s doors at 40 Broadway in the spring of 1994 with a degree in therapeutic recreation from the University of New Hampshire.

She thought the agency’s mental health clubhouse would suit her degree, having no real concept of what such a facility does. She didn’t find the pool tables and exercise equipment she expected to find, but Dyer was so struck by the staff’s dedication, the comfortable atmosphere and how staff interacted with clients. She knew she wanted to work there. She gave her resume to everyone.

“I just decided somehow, I had to work here. How could this many genuine, good people work in one place?” she said of the impression she got that day.

She got a job offer and became a case manager in then-Reliance House’s forensic division — working with clients who were in the judicial system — and started on her birthday in June 1994.

That same year, the state announced it would close Norwich Hospital by 1996. Dyer and other Reliance House workers spent most of their time helping patients who had lived at the institution for years move out, find apartments, learn how and when to do everything from changing their sheets and making their beds to eating meals and going grocery shopping — a scary experience for people who probably hadn’t walked into a supermarket in decades.

Dyer moved to new positions and greater responsibilities throughout her career, serving for five years as forensic program director, service director for five years and then chief operating officer. She earned her master’s degree in organizational management at Eastern Connecticut State University with help from Reliance House both with tuition and time.

Reliance House, which changed its name to Reliance Health in 2016 — “now people don’t think we’re a real estate agency,” Dyer said — also grew over the years, from its single facility building with 40 employees when Dyer arrived to 270 employees now running more than 30 programs and 11 residential facilities throughout eastern Connecticut.

The agency did a “massive expansion” in 2010, Burnett said, and last September, Reliance Health dedicated its new program headquarters at 2 Cliff St. to agency founder John Morosky.

Dyer is working on federal grant applications that would expand the agency’s scope of services even further, including working with clients as young as 16 on employment opportunities. The agency usually works only with adults. She’s also working on a state grant application that would bring her back to her bachelor’s degree roots, therapeutic recreation.

Dyer lives in Ashford with her husband, Chris Dyer, and their 11-year-old son Eli. Older son, Ben, is a student at Eastern Connecticut State University.

Burnett, 74, announced in April he planned to retire at some point this year, not setting a date. In a casual conversation with Dyer on Tuesday, the two landed on a projected transition date: Aug. 1.

“I want to take time to go out to all our residential facilities and say, ‘thank you,’” Burnett said Tuesday, “and 'everything will be great.'”

He said Dyer has been taking on more and more of the role of executive director in recent years. At the time of his retirement announcement, Burnett said the transition plan would surprise no one familiar with Reliance Health, and he joked Tuesday that 97 percent of the time, he’s the one turning to her if there’s a question about something.

And, he said, she can handle all the complex computer, electronic and modern technology systems needed in today’s health care and government funding world.

Reliance Health board Chairman Jack Malone agreed.

“Carrie will be a terrific executive director of Reliance Health and carry us forward,” Malone said Tuesday. “She brings the ability to work with the health care world of today, which is a lot more complicated than when David started.”

c.bessette@theday.com

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