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New director wants Tri-City Mental Health to be a ‘household name’

by Steven Felschundneff | steven@claremont-courier.com

Tri-City Mental Health searched far and wide for its next executive director, yet in the end, found one close to home by promoting Rimmi Hundal to the top administrative post.

Hundal worked for nearly 14 years as the Mental Health Services Act director, overseeing the chief source of funding for behavioral health at Tri-City, while concurrently serving as the ethnic services director.

The previous executive director, Toni Navarro, left in December 2021 to be the County of Santa Barbara’s director of behavioral wellness. Since then, another former executive director at Tri City, Jesse Duff, has filled in as interim.

Hundal’s appointment to executive director became effective at the end of May, according to a news release from the organization. On a side note, she said it was her mentor, Duff, who initially hired her at Tri-City in August 2008.

The news release also noted that Hundal is the first Asian-American executive director at Tri-City. The appointment occurred during Mental Health Awareness Month and Asian-American Pacific Islander Month.

“I am honored that I was given this opportunity to serve the community, and I will work hard with my full dedication to serve our clients and our community,” Hundal said in the news release. “I look forward to taking Tri-City to the next level.”

“Hiring an executive director is the most important responsibility of the Tri-City Mental Health governing board,” said Claremont Mayor Jed Leano, who is also the chair of the Tri-City board. “Rimmi not only brings institutional knowledge from having worked at the agency for 14 years, she also is a leader statewide in the ever-changing landscape of new funding sources, legislation, and mental health services programming. We interviewed a great pool of candidates, and I am fully confident she is the best choice.”

Ron Vera, the Claremont’s representative on the Tri City governing board, had the honor of introducing Hundal during the May 24 city council meeting.

“We hired a search firm, and I can say we did a nationwide search. We went through an extensive screening and interview [process]. We spent a day here at city hall interviewing candidates and we selected a person who is in our staff, and we believe will do an outstanding job. And has already done an outstanding job for the cities of Claremont Pomona and La Verne,” Vera said.

Rimmi Hundal was born and raised in Punjab, India and was educated at the all-girls Auckland House School, in the Himalayan foothill town of Shimla. After graduation she emigrated to the United States to attend California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, where in 1998, she received a bachelor’s degree in psychology. She added a master’s degree in psychology two years late at Pepperdine University.

Prior to her tenure at Tri-City, Hundal was a supervisor in the needs assessment department at Aurora Charter Oak hospital in Covina and a program liaison at Aspen Education Group in Cerritos.

She lives in Rancho Cucamonga with her husband of 12 years, Ashish Marwah, and their twin eight-year-old daughters.

Hundal says her passion for mental health began in childhood, but her decision to pursue a career in the field happened tragically, following the accidental death of her father while she was at Cal Poly.

“So I went through my grieving process. I went through my loss and grief and that really is what changed my career path,” she said.

Hundal has always worked in the Mental Health Services Act arena, which is the largest source of funding for community behavioral health in California. The act began as Proposition 63 the “millionaire tax” which imposes a one percent surcharge on earnings over $1 million for behavior health services.

Hundal said behavioral health is going through a transition right now that rivals the 1991 realignment when health services, and costs, were transferred from the state to the counties. The new program, California Advancing and Innovating Medi-Cal, or CalAIM, is a multi-year initiative by the Department of Health Care Services to “improve the quality of life and health outcomes of individuals on Medi-Cal by implementing broad delivery system, as well as program and payment reform across the Medi-Cal program.”

“Counties are going to work differently than they ever have before, and understanding that and implementing that is going to be one of our biggest, I wouldn’t say challenge, it’s going to change the landscape of behavior health in California and the way we bill for services is going to change,” Hundal said.

The move to the executive director role seemed like a natural progression in her career after spending so many years as the director of a wing of the organization.

“I worked very closely with Toni [the previous executive director] over the years, we both implemented the system of care at Tri-City, and so I applied,” Hundal said.

While she is not involved directly in client care, Hundal was responsible for Tri-City’s wellness center, which remained open during the pandemic, although some programs had to be dropped. What she noticed as pandemic fears began to fade was a need for people to reconnect after spending two years apart.

“What we are seeing is a lot of need for the community to connect with one another,” she said. “If there is a fire or a shooting, the community comes together, we help each other out. But during the pandemic we stayed away from each other, and that connection was lost. We could not help each other. If somebody got sick, we [had to] stay away from that person instead of coming together like we have traditionally done.”

As she moves forward in the new job, the first and long-term goal will be to work on outreach in the three communities that Tri-City serves.

To achieve this, Hundal will attend city council meetings, meet with community organizations, host events and hit the pavement to interact directly with the public. She also will visit the region’s schools and universities “to talk about wellbeing and stigma reduction” about mental health issues. She also hopes to recruit a few students into behavioral health careers.

“My main goal it to make Tri-City a household name in the cities of Pomona, La Verne and Claremont. Whether they are talking about wellness or illness, my goal is they will think about Tri-City when it comes to their mental well being,” Hundal said.

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