A Story of Trauma, Survival, and Redemption

Sharon Turner is a model of positivity & hard work, and is a great example of AHCCCS’s commitment to Community.  She has been with AHCCCS since 2016 starting out as a Maintenance Technician, is a certified locksmith, and is now the Assistant Facilities Manager.  Many employees would be surprised to learn that Sharon wasn’t supposed to be here.  Sharon wasn’t supposed to live.

Sharon Turner as a toddler
Sharon Turner as a toddler

For Mental Health Awareness month, I sat down with Sharon to hear of her harrowing life story – the pain and suffering as well as the love and joy – to hopefully share with others who experience trauma or need help recovering from trauma.  Sharon hopes that by sharing her story, others will feel empowered to love life and help someone in need.

Sharon Turner was born in 1962 in Saint Lucia.  Her birth mother was a young 15-year-old, and in love with Sharon’s birth-father.  Unfortunately, things did not work out and her birth father decided to marry another woman.  Distraught with grief, unable to take care of her children, and suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) & Postpartum Depression (PPD), Sharon’s birth-mother did the unthinkable:  she lovingly wrapped Sharon in blankets, stuffed her into a hallow in a tree, and walked away.

· You shouldn’t ever forget what happened, but you should always forgive.  Search for inner peace and closure.

Sharon Turner

A short time later, workers clearing the nearby field heard the cries of a baby and found Sharon – alive but scared.  Newspapers dubbed her “The Child That Came Back From the Grave.”  Taken to the hospital, Sharon eventually made a full recovery.  Her birth-mother was arrested.  Shunned by her community, she was committed.  At that time, citizens of Saint Lucia were not aware (officially) of PTSD and PPD, and so Sharon’s birth-mother received shock treatment and other procedures.

Luckily for Sharon, a nurse that cared for her couldn’t let her go, and officially adopted her.  Sharon spent the next 17 years growing up in England (which at that time still ruled the county of Saint Lucia) before moving to New York City.  Eventually, Sharon moved to Arizona, and has resided here for the past 14 years.

Sharon recently had the opportunity to speak to her birth-mother.  A local Saint Lucia newspaper had done a story, and reached out to Sharon because they had located her birth-mother.  During her long conversation, Sharon’s birth-mother expected her to be negative, angry, and hateful.  Instead, Sharon proclaimed her love and thanks for her birth-mother.   Sharon had forgiven her birth-mother.  She understood what she must have gone through, and had made peace with the events. 

Knowing how precious life is, Sharon has had the opportunity to help those in need.

Sharon Turner at AHCCCS
Sharon Turner at AHCCCS

When asked about what others dealing with trauma can do, Sharon offered the following:

· You shouldn’t ever forget what happened, but you should always forgive.  Search for inner peace and closure.

· The past does not define who you are.  You can always start over and re-invent yourself.

· Although horrible, traumatic events can serve to motivate your to become better.

· Traumatic events can help you to understand what others are going through.

· Life is hard, for sure, but it could always be worse.

Looking for resources for yourself or others?  Check out This Way Up – a website that provides online learning programs, education and research in anxiety, depressive disorders and physical health. 


OIFA Bureau Chief Kathy Bashor Announces Retirement

Kathy Bashor
Photo: Kathy Bashor, Bureau Chief, AHCCCS Office of Individual and Family Affairs

Kathy Bashor, Bureau Chief of the AHCCCS Office of Individual and Family Affairs (OIFA), recently announced her retirement. Since joining AHCCCS in 2016 when the Division of Behavioral Health Services moved to AHCCCS from the Arizona Department of Health Services, Kathy has made a lasting impact on members and employees alike.

“Kathy has been a tireless advocate to ensure that the voice of AHCCCS members and families are front and center in all our decisions,” said Director Tom Betlach. “I have personally benefited from the patience, determination, and knowledge that she has shared with me over the years. Kathy has been instrumental in our efforts to improve services for AHCCCS members and she will be missed.”

As an advocate and leader in the field of Peer and Family Support, she was instrumental in advancing a peer credentialing program that has now generated more certified peer support specialists per 100,000 residents than any other state in the nation. Numerous awards and accolades demonstrate the depth of her commitment. In 2018, she received the Max Dine Advocacy Award from David’s Hope for outstanding leadership in mental health criminal justice. She also received the 2017 ASU Center for Applied Behavioral Health Policy Leadership in Advocacy award for her sustained contributions to the accessibility, availability and effectiveness of behavioral health services in Arizona.

“Kathy has been a tireless advocate to ensure that the voice of AHCCCS members and families are front and center in all our decisions.”

Dana Hearn, assistant director of the Division of Health Care Advocacy and Advancement, has worked with Kathy for almost eight years. “Kathy has such a presence about her that those around her are immediately filled with zest and a force of your own just by being around her. And to be in her presence is to adore her.  Good days and bad, Kathy brings the utmost sincerity and passion for all that she does.  She is an advocate through and through and one of the best humans I have ever known,” Hearn said.

As Kathy generously shared her story of lived experience and her expertise, AHCCCS employees benefited. Through a partnership with PSA Art Awakenings, Kathy organized an art display at the Phoenix campus as a way to start dialog with colleagues about the stigma that surrounds mental illness. Every year, she has encouraged employees to join “The Soul of AHCCCS” walk team in support of NAMI, the American Foundation for the Prevention of Suicide, and the Southwest Autism Research and Resource Center. Along with OIFA staff, she generously volunteered time to formal and informal staff training. Everyone who had the pleasure of working alongside Kathy came away with greater understanding of mental illness, the stigma that surrounds it, access to treatment options and tools to support our communities.

AHCCCS is deeply grateful to Kathy for her service to members, families and our extended community.



AHCCCS Attorney Ben Runkle receives ASU Behavioral Health Cultural Heritage Award

Ben Runkle, AZ Behavioral Health Award

Within the public health industry, attorneys often craft contracts, policies and legislation that change the health care delivery system and directly affect patient care. Benjamin Runkle, Associate General Counsel for AHCCCS, received the 2017 Arizona Behavioral Health Cultural Heritage Award from the ASU Center for Applied Behavioral Health Policy for his efforts in improving American Indians’ access to behavioral health services.

Across the industry, health care professionals are seeing the improved results of integrating physical and behavioral services in order to treat patients, mind, and body, as a whole.  Arizona’s state health service agencies took a major step toward integration in 2016 when the Division of Behavioral Health Services merged with AHCCCS.  Combining the payment structures for separate behavioral health services into an existing physical healthcare delivery system posed a unique administrative challenge for Arizona’s American Indian population. As AHCCCS members, American Indians can participate in managed care networks or a fee-for-service system.

Mr. Runkle, as part of a cross-divisional team of AHCCCS personnel, worked with tribal officials to reduce the administrative burden on tribal programs that coordinate behavioral health services.  He was instrumental in negotiating and drafting streamlined intergovernmental agreements focused on facilitating American Indians’ access to behavioral health services and crisis intervention programs.  The agreements transferred administrative burdens (processing service authorizations and maintaining provider networks) to AHCCCS so that tribal behavioral health programs could dedicate more resources directly to people in need.

“Our agency is progressive and proactive about balancing the needs of members while making health care financially feasible for the next generation.”

“It took considerable effort,” said Runkle, “but in the end, we were able to construct a system that freed providers to focus their resources on delivering direct services to members.”  In short, Mr. Runkle, the AHCCCS team, and tribal officials made behavioral health services more accessible to Arizona’s American Indian populations, including members enrolled with Tribal Regional Behavioral Health Authorities, Tribal Arizona Long Term Care System, and those receiving services from Indian Health Services and tribally owned and/or operated 638 facilities.

Formerly in private practice at a local Phoenix law firm, Mr. Runkle says that his move to public health care policy work has been personally rewarding.  “I feel good about what AHCCCS is doing and I’m confident in the direction we’re heading.  Our agency is progressive and proactive about balancing the needs of current members while making health care financially sustainable for the next generation,” he said.

Beyond his work in health care policy, Mr. Runkle is an advocate of behavioral health awareness within his community. For many years he has been a supporter of Teen Lifeline, a crisis and support line for teens, parents, and teachers, and currently serves on its Board of Directors.

According to the ASU Center for Applied Behavioral Health Policy website, 44 individuals and agencies in Arizona have been recognized since 2005 for their significant contributions to improvements in, access to, and impact of behavioral health care. The Cultural Heritage Award recognizes an individual or agency that has brought cultural distinction to the behavioral health field.