When Kami Anderson graduated from Indiana University of Pennsylvania in 1986 with a degree in business administration, she envisioned returning to the campus one day as a professor.
“When I got out of college, my vision was that I wanted to do every type of accounting and then go back to IUP and be a professor and teach accounting,” Anderson said.
“But I wanted to work in every type (of accounting) because I’ve had too many people try to teach me that really haven’t been in the field and know how it goes.”
After graduation, Anderson spent a month as a part-time bookkeeper for M. Jay Earley, P.C., law firm in Indiana, two years as a public accountant for James F. Cawley, CPA; and nearly five years as an assistant controller for The Lockard Company. In May 1993, she was hired as the chief fiscal officer for the Armstrong-Indiana-Clarion Drug and Alcohol Commission, which is headquartered in Shelocta.
“When I came here I thought, ‘I’ll stay here for five years doing nonprofit accounting because I think it is one of the most difficult types of it,’” Anderson said. “It was just when case management was being developed, it was brand new to Pennsylvania. We were one of the pilots — there were eight across the state.
“We didn’t have Clarion County then. It was just Indiana and Armstrong counties.”
Anderson, 55, remained in that role until January 1999, when she was promoted to deputy director by long-time executive director Charlene Givens.
“Charlene was my mentor and she was an excellent executive director,” Anderson said. “When I worked under her, we developed pretty much a mini-managed care system. We had to oversee 10 counties and we were called the HUB. So I was thrust right into that when I started in. We had to build the system and had to have lines directly into Harrisburg to check people’s eligibility.
“In 1999, that is when the HeathChoices Program started in our area and I pretty much oversaw all the finances around it and the oversight in Indiana and Armstrong counties.”
Anderson said she also has been mentored by David McAdoo, chief executive officer of Southwest Behavioral Health Management Inc.
“I’ve looked up to him my whole entire work life,” said Anderson, who serves as secretary treasurer for that group. “He has given me lots of tips and guidance.”
Givens retired in 2007 after 29 years with the drug and alcohol commission, including the last 25 as the executive director.
She was replaced by Anderson, who had held the job for the past dozen years, during which time she said the budget has climbed from $2,504,375 to $4,797,608. Anderson spends a portion of her time now teaching and coaching employees rather than the college students she once envisioned.
“I always thought I would get burned out in this job,” Anderson said. “There’s been so many changes, you just can’t keep up — changes in drugs trends constantly that you have to be knowledgeable about what’s going out there on the street.
“When I took over as executive director, we had 12 employees. We have 38 now. Because of the heroin epidemic and the explosion of heroin and fentanyl took off in the early 2000s, we had to keep creating more and more services and adding more employees so we didn’t have any waiting list.
“I wanted to hire as many people in recovery as I could because I believed those were the people who could help the most for our clients,” she said.
“That really was one of my focuses, to hire people in recovery and build up our case management system, so if something ever happened that people couldn’t go to rehab, we could surround them with services here at home and provide care to them.”
Anderson, who also serves on the board the Behavioral Health Alliance for Rural Pennsylvania, constantly offers support to individuals in an effort to help them to overcome battles with substance abuse.
The commission has been awarded more than $10 million in grants under her leadership.
“We have about 15 people in recovery that work here,” Anderson said. “We see about 1,000 people each year in Armstrong and Indiana counties and about 300 in Clarion. Of the people we see at Indiana (Regional Medical Center), 82 percent go to treatment the same day. The national percentage is 11 percent.
“We have contracts with 40 agencies and facilities across the state. We have contracts in every level of care. We try to keep our people in western Pennsylvania.”
Anderson said it’s a lengthy process to recovery from addiction.
She said she had has seen children as young as 13 battle drug use, as well as an adult man in his 80s using heroin.
“It takes months, years to overcome addiction,” she said. “It varies, but I would say the average number of visits someone makes would be five to six times.
“They’re not going to get cured in one time when it took them years to get to the point they are. We get a lot of parents that get upset with us. They say, ‘here’s our kid, fix them.’ We’re not going to do that in 14 days or 28 days. It takes much longer.”
Anderson’s job isn’t without its pitfalls.
“My first family reunion after we started using Narcan, there were two people just waiting for me to get in the door,” she said.
“The one said, ‘I don’t want this Narcan thing. They should get three times and that’s it.’ And the other person said, ‘I think they should only get one chance and that’s it.’
“Obviously, I didn’t agree. We got a $50,000 grant to buy Narcan off the foundation and we just flooded the counties with them, made sure all the first responders, police, family members, anyone who used treatment centers (received it). We would give it out.
“I think that helped bring our fatalities down, because we reduced them by 50 percent. … But the overdose fatalities have doubled from last year, when there was 23. I would like to see the number of fatalities go down again. We’ll keep working hard to make sure that happens.”
Anderson said the drug or drugs of choice are constantly changing.
“Now everything’s starting to turn to methamphetamine, cocaine and stimulants,” she said. “When there is a fatality, the coroner usually finds multiple things in the person’s system — heroin, cocaine and meth. There’s a combination of things.
“And we’re seeing a lot of alcoholics now. A lot of people that were cut off from heroin are going straight to alcohol.”
Anderson is against legalizing marijuana in Pennsylvania other than for medical use.
“I think it’s a terrible idea,” she said. “I think the medical marijuana is as far as we need to go right now. There’s a study out there where they looked at people for three years, and the people that smoked marijuana regularly for three years lost 18 percent of their brain capability.
“So if you keep smoking marijuana at that rate, by the time you’re 50 years old, you’re not going to be able to work or function. They are all going to be on disability.”
Anderson and her husband, Mark, reside in Home. They have a son, Bo, a daughter, Katie, and three grandsons. Previously, Anderson was active with her kids’ sports teams, serving on the boosters of the Marion Center football, band and softball, as well as Little League and the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Hockey League.