The Safety Team are Sanford Ambassadors – Limelight Interview

safety team

Matthew VanLiere says, “The safety team are Sanford’s ambassadors.”


Sanford West Behavioral Health Campus is the newest treatment facility under the Sanford Behavioral Health umbrella. After a yearlong renovation, Sanford West is open for business! Located 12 minutes from downtown Grand Rapids, in Marne, Michigan, and situated on 18 acres, Sanford West enhances and compliments the existing services at Sanford Behavioral Health. The hallmarks of Sanford, such as original artwork, custom furniture, and an abundance of light are apparent in the new facility. And although it is a big, sprawling campus, program areas for detox, addiction, eating disorder and mental health treatment are strategically divided into intimate spaces. 


Safety Team

One of the key components to opening and running a mental health facility like Sanford West, is safety. This includes the safety of patients and visitors to the site as well as the safety and security of the building. Today in the “Limelight” we talk with Matthew VanLiere, Director of Safety and Transportation. Matthew says he found Sanford by happenstance. However, his 29 years as an Ottawa County Deputy Sheriff prepared him for the rigors of the job.


Matthew says, “I call the Safety Team the Ambassadors of Sanford; we are often the first people a patient will see. Because of this, our welcoming empathy is important. We do check a new patient’s belongings to mitigate dangerous objects and contraband. But we want to get the special items they bring with them back to them as soon as possible for comfort.”


Limelight Interview Matthew VanLiere, Director of Safety and Transport


safety team

Matthew VanLiere, in front of an inspirational painting in the hallway at Sanford West.


Sanford: What is your primary focus?

Matthew: My team and I are responsible for the physical security of the facility. We are also responsible for the safety of our patients and visitors who come into the space. This means we do everything from cleaning up spills and dealing with damage to the facility to retaining valuables. But it’s more than that. I call the Safety Team the Ambassadors of Sanford; we are often the first people a patient will see. Because of this, our welcoming empathy is important.


We do check a new patient’s belongings to mitigate dangerous objects and contraband. But we want to get the special items they bring with them back to them as soon as possible for comfort. We might even do laundry if a patient arrives with soiled clothes. We may also have to manage a patient who has suicidal thoughts, wants to leave, or is intoxicated. There is a delicate balance needed.


Sanford: How did your job as Deputy Sheriff prepare you for this job?

Matthew: I was with the Ottawa County Sheriff’s Department for 29 years. Everything from traffic enforcement to narcotics. And I was fortunate to get FBI training for hostage negotiations: basic intervention to extreme situations. I use that training often at Sanford to diffuse tense situations or interact with a patient who is struggling.



Sanford: Why did you choose this career?

Matthew: I love that question! I retired from the police department, but I was not ready to leave the helping field. I’d been looking for something else to give me a sense of fulfillment and provide a service to others. I am a recovering alcoholic, nine years in recovery, and I wanted to work with others who were struggling with addiction. It was happenstance that a friend of mine heard about the opening at Sanford. Simply put, it melded everything I was thinking about into one package.


Sanford: Tell us about your vision for an extensive First Responders Program.

Matthew: I have a strong affinity for first responders, military, fire, EMS, police officers. These people see things the average person does not see. They need a safe place to share truths that are not going to get out to the general public. You know, as an officer you have that in your partner: honesty and support. It is harder to trust those who have not experienced what you have experienced. I’d like to see specialized programs available at Sanford to provide a continuum of care for first responders.


Sanford: What is the key to recovery?

Matthew: First, getting sober. Then find a recovery community and pick the parts that work for you. Listen to those you agree with and those you don’t. Keep an open mind. I am a 12-step advocate and go to 5 meetings a week. I have the opportunity to lead 12-step meetings in our Detox Center – it is a great honor.


Sanford: The pitfalls?

Matthew: I think it’s the difference between being interested and “just there”. With all the strong men and women at Sanford to help them, it takes being willing and open. I always say to our patients, “Don’t give up before the miracle.” This is personal for me, I’ve walked the same road. I hate to see someone who is not ready to make the change. But that is why we are here.


safety team

Keeping things safe and comfortable – a bedroom at Sanford Comprehensive Treatment for Eating Disorders


Sanford: What is the fun part of your job?

Matthew: I love the activity, daily changes, and the unknowns. I actually like to tackle the monumental tasks. I love to work with people in recovery.


Sanford: The Challenging Part?

Matthew: (Laughs) The activity, daily changes and unknowns. Seriously, the challenge comes from seeing someone who seems defeated – someone who does not see that light.


Sanford: What type of books do you read?

Matthew: When I’m not reading the Big Book (something I prop open on a regular basis), I like mysteries that take place in Michigan.


Sanford: What is your favorite journey?

Matthew: My favorite journey has been to realize who I truly am in recovery. That has been monumental to me and my family.


Sanford: What makes Sanford Behavioral Health unique?

Matthew: The credo of One Sanford. That we are all one big team working towards the same goal – people coming together to make Sanford a place of excellence.


Sanford West Behavioral Health Campus – safety is key


Sanford: Do you have a motto?

Matthew: Absolutely. I was moving stuff out of an old office in Sanford West when we were renovating. And I found a baggy in a cabinet drawer with a coin that said, “If nothing changes, nothing changes.” It felt like a sign. I put that coin in my pocket every day (pats his pocket). It feels like a physical tie to Sanford Behavioral Health, and my recovery.


Sanford: Gotta keep changing… Thanks Matt!


Sanford Behavioral Health is licensed and accredited as an addiction, eating disorder, and co-occurring mental health treatment facility, serving all of Michigan and beyond. Each of Sanford’s facilities in Greater Grand Rapids is carefully and diligently crafted to create a welcoming and comforting environment. Sanford is led by a psychiatrist-led team of medical, clinical, and support personnel providing medication-assisted, evidenced-based treatment to residential, outpatient, and telehealth patients. For more information, visit