When the Milieu Matters – Limelight Interview

Milieu matters interviewee pictured

Program Director Shelby Kendrick in her “favorite spot” – under the backyard apple tree.

What happens behind the scenes at Sanford Behavioral Health to “seamlessly” create a milieu conducive to clients and staff? Today in the Limelight Interview, we turn to the Program Director of Sanford’s substance use disorder units, Shelby Kendrick, to give us the inside information.


Milieu Matters with Program Director, Shelby Kendrick

Limelight Interview


SBH – What is your role at Sanford Behavioral Health?

Shelby Kendrick – This is a tricky question for me to answer because I have worn so many hats during our growth at Sanford. As Program Director, I oversee all our operational staff members in the substance use disorder (SUD) units. I also manage non-clinical programming, facilitate communication between departments, and personalize the milieu. It’s about taking the big picture strategy and creating real-life operating procedures and workflows. My goal is to have everything working the way it should on the floor.


SBH – How do you coordinate between the different SUD locations?

Shelby Kendrick – I try my best to make the procedures under my control company-wide and consistent for two reasons. First, I focus on cross-training. Our resident support specialists (RSS) and others need to know exactly what is required, whether at Sanford House at Cherry Street, John Street, or Sanford West. And second, we provide consistency so our clients know what to expect as they process through the full continuum of care. Understanding the structure, procedures, and rules improves the overall experience. It takes a lot of communication, training, and time. Also, the managers are excellent, and I can delegate tasks to them and trust the outcome.



SBH – How long have you worked for Sanford Behavioral Health? How have you adapted to change?

Shelby Kendrick – Five years in September. I joke that my staying power is because I’m crazy. But seriously, it takes a particular type of person to thrive in an environment that grows as fast as Sanford. It works because we are small enough that the leadership team is close, passionate, and communicates well, which allows us to create lasting change. We are also big enough to attract team members with diverse backgrounds and unique skills that complement each other. We can pivot, try something out, and if it works, make changes. We are not stuck in our ways.


SBH – You must have the ability to adapt.

Shelby Kendrick – I attribute my adaptability to being in recovery. Being in recovery is an ongoing process. It is always development, and recovery requires you to make changes, adapt, be brave, and better yourself.


SBH – What is the key to successful outcomes in recovery?

Shelby Kendrick – Hope. For me, it always comes down to hope. Being in a hopeless state is difficult, but seeing our clients get a spark of hope motivates them to want to get better and to accept our support. We provide a safe and stable environment where our clients can allow themselves to be vulnerable. Having staff members who embody successful recovery and are good role models is also essential. Especially when we appropriately share our journey and experience.


milieu matters with photos of three Sanford facilities

Recovery begins in a particular place – when the milieu matters.


SBH – What are the pitfalls?

Shelby Kendrick – People who do not care about themselves or want to leave treatment against medical advice. If they don’t care about themselves or love themselves, it presents a significant barrier to recovery. The key is finding some way to give them a little hope that the hard work is worth it.


SBH – What about the alumni program? Does that spark hope for those in treatment?

Shelby Kendrick – The structure of our hybrid alumni group gives current clients a platform to ask alumni questions. It’s working well! It reminds the alums of where they have been and allows them to recognize their journey and be advocates. It also allows current clients to see what is possible and to ask difficult questions.


SBH – What is the fun part of your job?

Shelby Kendrick – I don’t have the relationships with our clients I had in previous roles, and I miss that. But the hard work we do on the back end creates a good experience for them. So, I love what I do; I want everything to be as efficient as possible. People enjoy their jobs more when they know what to expect. And clients see that too, and it positively impacts outcomes.



SBH – The Challenges?

Shelby Kendrick – Oh, man (laughs). As much as I talk about how I thrive with Sanford’s growth (and I do), it is also the biggest challenge. Change, new research, external factors, COVID-19…


SBH – Speaking of COVID-19, what did we learn?

Shelby Kendrick – Most things have returned to “normal,” but risk mitigation comes to mind. With COVID, there were so many unknowns. We did the best we could with the information we had to protect our clients and staff, and we did an excellent job. I think we can take the theme of risk management and apply it to other aspects of what we do.


SBH – What is your favorite journey?

Shelby Kendrick – When I think of my journey, I think about acceptance. Acceptance is a big part of my life – I can be a bit ridged and type A, and with being an addict… Having acceptance is important because you can ruin enjoyment in life by not being in and accepting the present moment. My worst days in recovery are still something I could not have dreamed of in active addiction.


SBH – Do you have a favorite saying or motto?

Shelby Kendrick – It is what it is.


SBH – You have spent five years at Sanford Behavioral Health. What makes Sanford unique?

Shelby Kendrick – I strongly believe that staffing our teams is the heart of this great organization. With our mission and culture, we attract a diverse and fantastic staff, people who are passionate and energetic about mental health and wellness. We manage the big picture but also take care of the little details like clean towels, amazing food, and remembering client milestones. Lastly, Rae and David Green are innovative and brave, and that is inspiring to all of us.

Thank you, Shelby!



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 www.sanfordbehavioralhealth.com.