A Strong Foundation Since 1968

Generosity, vision and hard work are the building blocks of Wheeler Clinic’s history, starting first with a generous bequest in 1960 from prominent Plainville resident Bertha Wheeler, and the support of many local and statewide community and business leaders and clinical professionals.

Mrs. Wheeler’s gift, and vital construction and staffing grants from the National Institute of Mental Health, helped establish the clinic in 1968 and led to the 1972 construction of the first facility at 91 Northwest Drive in Plainville. The purpose of the clinic was to develop more effective, less costly and more humane forms of care for children and adults with addictions, emotional disturbances and other behavioral disorders.

From Wheeler's first chair of the Board of Trustees, Marlene Hoerle:

OUR BEGINNING: The vision and contributions of some of Wheeler's earliest leaders shape and guide our direction and delivery of integrated, whole-person care to individuals and families of Connecticut.

HOERLE: "At that time, there was a hospital, New Britain General, there was Bristol Hospital, there was Southington Hospital, and then we had all our Hartford hospitals. So, there was opposition to a small public hospital in Plainville. And at that time, the regional mental health council was very active. And Dottie Hubbard, who headed that regional mental health council, really pondered the situation and she said, 'You know, there are no facilities for mentally ill children. Why don't we see if we could get the money to build a hospital for mentally ill children in Plainville.'"

Wheeler was created through a generous 1960 bequest from prominent Plainville resident Bertha Wheeler. Local attorney Bonnie Barnes also played a key role in creating Wheeler, taking on the effort pro bono.

Marlene Hoerle, along with Herman Papenfoth, one of Wheeler’s earliest trustees and a leader in the Plainville community, and H. Stafford Kellum, were instrumental in working with Bonnie Barnes to create the organization.

Wheeler has had exceptional leadership at every stage, from its trustees and its management team. Each executive director or president brought to the role a strong sense of direction and passion. Dennis Keenan drove tremendous growth in the scope and strength of Wheeler through unprecedented times. David Berkowitz was a visionary who was able to pivot on our existing strengths and move us in new, complementary directions. Susan Walkama transformed Wheeler into a provider of fully integrated health care services. And, now, Sabrina Trocchi is carrying the vision of decades of work ahead.

Today, Wheeler Clinic has grown and expanded significantly to respond to the changing and diverse needs of those we serve. In August of 2020, the first 91 Northwest Drive facility began the transformation of becoming a federally qualified health center, Wheeler's fifth. Our strong foundation supports the strategic choices that will define our future. As we continue to evolve, we know we will always be an integral part of the health and well-being of our communities.

In 2023, we're building our future: our first new construction since 1972, our new administrative headquarters and combined health center in Bristol's Centre Square

The occasion of our 50th anniversary in 2018 led to the creation of a weekly series of articles about our proud past. Please learn more about our history at the links below.

Dec 31, 2018, 2:45 AM
It’s been a remarkable year for Wheeler as we’ve honored our past 50 years and also accelerated growth that will carry us into the next 50.
Dec 31, 2018, 2:26 AM
As our 50th anniversary draws to a close, we asked Wheeler's leadership team for their thoughts on how the organization has evolved and grown for five decades. Here are some of their thoughts.
Dec 20, 2018, 8:03 AM
Our work for the past 50 years has always been focused on creating hope and positive change in in the lives of the individuals and families we serve.
Dec 13, 2018, 8:48 AM
From the moment a group of community visionaries came together in the late 1960s to establish a center for treating children's mental health needs in Plainville, Wheeler has always been different.
Dec 7, 2018, 8:14 AM
When longtime friend, Bill Torres, reached out to Chris Skelly eight years ago about becoming involved with Wheeler, she was open to his recommendation.
Nov 30, 2018, 3:23 AM
From the early start-up years to the leading edge of addressing today’s opioid crisis, Wheeler’s addiction programs have consistently approached the disease of addiction with innovative methodologies at the intersection with other health conditions.
Nov 21, 2018, 3:46 AM
Through our five decades, side-by-side with our funders, donors, community leaders and friends, we’ve transformed from that vision of a center for children, to today delivering an array of integrated primary care and behavioral health services as diverse as everyone we serve.
Nov 16, 2018, 8:51 AM
As we’ve celebrated our 50th anniversary this year, we’ve highlighted partners in our work, including AFCAMP, Saint Francis Healthcare Partners, FAVOR, the Connecticut Health Foundation, the Town of Plainville, and many more.
Nov 12, 2018, 9:55 AM
The following 50th anniversary stories highlight the leadership and contributions of two local residents and brothers, Ron and Rick Bucchi. Both individuals served on the Wheeler Board of Trustees and were instrumental in helping to guide the organization through periods of notable expansion.
Nov 5, 2018, 2:01 AM
Wheeler’s driving vision of innovation has long been supported by similarly visionary donors, and few fit that description better than Mary Fran and Peter Libassi.
Oct 25, 2018, 5:58 AM
Jane Tedder’s role in Wheeler’s success is both subtle and wide-ranging. A former trustee and vice chair, she helped the organization refocus, adapt, and change in important ways that ensured long-term growth. Today, she’s volunteering again, shaping philanthropic approaches during Wheeler’s 50th anniversary.
Oct 18, 2018, 11:50 AM
Every year in December, a select few Wheeler employees receive the Anna Tedesco Award in recognition of outstanding work. Since the award began in 1983, nearly 120 employees have become recipients, from all areas and levels of Wheeler.
Oct 12, 2018, 5:20 AM
Nearly two decades ago, Jeff Loureiro was approached by former Plainville State Representative Betty Boukus (D-22) about the potential for an outdoor community project at Wheeler’s Northwest Village School, just across the street from his company at 91 Northwest Drive.
Oct 1, 2018, 11:31 AM
Nearly 250 donors, friends, and leaders from throughout Wheeler’s history celebrated its 50th anniversary on September 29 and helped raise more than $145,000 for services, a record for fundraising events at the organization.
Sep 29, 2018, 4:07 AM
On the day of our 50th anniversary celebration, a look back at some of the events to remember from Wheeler's past.
Sep 21, 2018, 10:00 AM
"This week, our 50 Years, 50 Stories article is a simple note of thanks to all our past and current employees who devoted and devote so much time, hard work and energy to provide the best care since 1968."
Sep 14, 2018, 7:51 AM
About 200 people have served as Wheeler trustees since 1968, but only one couple can claim to both have served, albeit at different times. The dedication of Ken and Judy Boudreau came in pivotal moments for Wheeler and helped position it for future growth.
Sep 9, 2018, 6:35 AM
Wheeler’s Annual Golf Classic, now in its 33rd year, often provides an opportunity for business and community leaders to learn more about the organization.
Aug 31, 2018, 12:42 PM
Community-based organizations like Wheeler rely on the knowledge and passion of local citizens who serve as volunteers and leaders, making connections and guiding the institution. One of Wheeler’s longest-serving and dearest volunteers is Ed Lorenson. For more than four decades, he and the entire Lorenson family have been stalwart supporters of the mission, nearly from Wheeler’s very beginning.
Aug 24, 2018, 11:05 AM
A neighbor and Wheeler employee at the time convinced Raymond Arroyo to become involved with the organization and eventually to join the organization’s board.
Aug 17, 2018, 9:34 AM
Ann Thomas, independent non-profit consultant and former board chair, became involved with Wheeler at the suggestion of community leaders and philanthropists, Mary Fran and Peter Libassi.
Aug 11, 2018, 5:26 AM
Our personal and professional connections often lead us to unexpected, rewarding places. This was the case with former Wheeler board of trustee and board chair, Jan Neri, whose late husband, Ray, was a good friend of community leader and Wheeler trustee, Ray Corsini.
Jul 31, 2018, 11:57 AM
Last week, we shared the story of Wheeler President and Chief Executive Officer, Susan Walkama, LCSW, as part of our 50th Anniversary series. Below are some reflections on Susan’s role as a leader at Wheeler.
Jul 20, 2018, 5:26 AM
Wheeler President and Chief Executive Officer, Susan Walkama, LCSW, exudes a quiet, strong confidence—fueled, in part, by experience and the many forms of inspiration in her life. With warmth, grace, humility and a commitment to achieve the very best outcomes for individuals and families—especially the most vulnerable—Susan guides a team of more than 1,000 at Wheeler in achieving its mission to provide equitable access to innovative care that improves health, recovery and growth at all stages of life.
Jul 7, 2018, 6:26 AM
Recently, we shared the story of David Berkowitz, Ph.D., former executive director of Wheeler Clinic, as part of our 50th Anniversary series. Below are some reflections on David’s life and role as a leader at Wheeler.
Jun 30, 2018, 5:34 AM
David J. Berkowitz, Ph.D., former executive director of Wheeler, relentlessly pushed boundaries to better serve the behavioral health needs of individuals, families and communities in Connecticut.
Jun 21, 2018, 12:15 PM
“When an organization like Wheeler shifts its focus on integrated approaches to care, it’s absolutely huge...there is such a strong body of evidence of the integration of the mind and the body.”
Jun 14, 2018, 6:58 AM
Bill Torres got to know Wheeler as a golfer in the organization’s annual golf classic nearly two decades ago.
Jun 8, 2018, 10:35 AM
The Wheeler Golf Classic was founded by a group of business leaders and top companies in 1986 to raise money for behavioral health and community-based services for children and adolescents. The event, now in its 33rd year, engages members of the business community in a great day of golf to support Wheeler’s mission.
Jun 1, 2018, 5:43 AM
It was a perfect June day as 144 participants in the First Annual Wheeler Clinic Golf Classic teed off, competing for prizes but mostly enjoying the warm sunshine and companionship of their fellow golfers.
May 25, 2018, 6:38 AM
In 2010, Forestville residents Claire Holden and Aline Towne became Wheeler volunteers through a local chapter of RSVP, a national volunteer network for people 55 and over. They didn’t know each other at the time, but became and stayed friends through this assignment and beyond.
May 18, 2018, 8:32 AM
For Bill Carbone, MPA, partnering with statewide non-profits has always been an essential part of maintaining youth and adults safely in the community. As former executive director of the State of Connecticut Judicial Branch, Court Support Services Division (CSSD), Mr. Carbone worked with Wheeler for many years until his retirement from state government in 2014.
May 11, 2018, 3:47 AM
Last week, we highlighted the long career of Dennis Keenan, executive director of Wheeler from 1977 to 1998. This week, we're sharing some personal reflections on Dennis himself.
May 4, 2018, 7:38 AM
After Dennis Keenan interviewed for a job running Wheeler’s then-new special education school in 1974, he went home and told his wife to not expect him to work there long.
Apr 27, 2018, 8:59 AM
Plainville resident Bertha Buell Wheeler and husband Frank shared a passion for community that spanned two World Wars and beyond. Their vision and support bolstered many local non-profit organizations, including the Plainville Library and YMCA, and also led to the establishment of Wheeler Clinic.
Apr 19, 2018, 10:14 AM
Wheeler’s path to its 50th anniversary and as a provider of whole-person, integrated care is heavily influenced by a strong, ongoing relationship with Saint Francis Hospital and Trinity Health Of New England. Adam Silverman, MD, FACP, vice president of population health at Saint Francis Healthcare Partners, has been a stalwart partner and advocate.
Apr 13, 2018, 9:49 AM
Patricia Baker’s life work and passion centers on making a healthier tomorrow for us all. That’s a challenge in a rapidly changing health care environment.
Apr 5, 2018, 9:24 AM
For more than twenty years, Beresford Wilson has tirelessly worked for Connecticut families with children with mental, emotional, behavioral health challenges, and developmental and intellectual disabilities. Like many advocates, he found a calling to social change through his own lived experience. His future in family advocacy became clear shortly after he became a father himself; Wilson’s oldest son weighed fewer than two pounds at birth.
Mar 30, 2018, 9:48 AM
There wasn’t a time when the late, former State Representative Betty Boukus (D-Plainville, New Britain) wasn’t advocating for Wheeler and the individuals and families served by the organization. Ms. Boukus—who served for 22 years in the state legislature—supported Wheeler as a corporator and trustee, and was a steadfast champion for the expansion of its programs and services.
Mar 22, 2018, 9:00 AM
The most pressing community issues often require leaders and organizations to rethink and reimagine. This is how as Kurt A. Barwis, FACHE, president and CEO of Bristol Hospital and Health Care Group, approaches problem-solving. A reinvigorated partnership between Wheeler and Bristol Hospital exemplifies creativity, giving rise to programs that serve the whole-health needs of individuals and families in Bristol and surrounding communities.
Mar 16, 2018, 9:35 AM
While Wheeler serves 30,000 Connecticut residents from 90% of the state’s cities and towns every year, its roots go back to a field in Plainville, Connecticut in 1968 (link) and the vision and generosity of prominent Plainville citizen, Bertha Wheeler.
Mar 8, 2018, 6:29 AM
For former Wheeler board of trustee member, Courtney Bourns, Wheeler’s work and mission were personal. Mr. Bourns’ late wife, Jane, spent nearly 30 years of her professional career with Wheeler, and was a former director of Wheeler Children’s Outpatient Services, serving children and youth in Central Connecticut.
Mar 1, 2018, 4:29 AM
Some people have jobs, while others have callings. For Jane Bourns, a deeply devoted clinician, administrator, child advocate and Wheeler employee for nearly three decades, the latter was clearly true. Jane, who passed away in 2003, spent most of her career developing mental health services for children at Wheeler, and strengthening statewide systems and communities serving youth and families.
Feb 22, 2018, 8:23 AM
Parents are often their child’s most influential role models, providing tools and lessons that last a lifetime and beyond. This was the clearly the case in John Lacey’s life. His mother Marie, and father, the Honorable J. Robert Lacey, exemplified service and generosity, and influenced his path as a lawyer, philanthropist and community leader.
Feb 15, 2018, 7:56 AM
The success of any start-up organization often depends on a community that nurtures it, as well as the talent and driving forces of local leadership. The presence of these elements—coupled with the vision and mobilization efforts of Dorothy K. “Dottie” Hubbard—moved Wheeler from vision to reality.
Feb 8, 2018, 7:57 AM
The examples we set through leadership and service often extend to the next generation and beyond. Herman Papenfoth, a Wheeler board of trustee member in the organization’s earliest years, clearly was a strong role model for his daughter, Doris Nims, who passed away in 2015 at age 89.
Jan 31, 2018, 3:25 AM
Even the first time you meet Ann Smith, JD, MBA, the executive director of African Caribbean American Parents of Children with Disabilities, Inc. (AFCAMP), you immediately sense her passion for her work and the value she places on interpersonal relationships.
Jan 22, 2018, 9:15 AM
A Plainville man’s legacy of health, gardening and community service is now memorialized through a demonstration kitchen that will assist thousands of families to maintain wellness through better nutrition.
Jan 19, 2018, 11:50 AM
For our 50th anniversary in 2018, we’re going back to the very beginning and hear from one of Wheeler’s first leaders, Marlene Zahnke Hoerle, chair of Wheeler’s board from 1971 to 1975.
Jan 9, 2018, 8:17 AM
On the 50th anniversary of Wheeler's creation, more than 125 community leaders, supporters and staff gathered yesterday to celebrate the opening of Wheeler’s Family Health & Wellness Center at 43 Woodland Street, Hartford.
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