Wendy Waddell, new chief operating officer at St. Paul-based People Incorporated, is leading efforts to expand the mental health nonprofit’s reach beyond the Twin Cities.

Waddell joined People Incorporated, the Twin Cities’ largest community-based mental health services provider, in August after more than a decade as director of inpatient mental health at Regions Hospital. Waddell arrives as People Incorporated, founded in 1969, prepares to celebrate its 50th anniversary on Oct. 4 at the Radisson Blu at the Mall of America.

Waddell, who served on People Incorporated’s board of directors in 2015-2018, said her move reflected a growing interest in working with the mentally ill in a community setting. Most of her nearly 30 years as a mental health nurse has been in leadership positions at hospitals systems with inpatient care.

“It was a good time to look at working with the mentally ill population in the community and try to meet them where they’re at,” Waddell said.

As chief operating officer, Waddell leads the strategic business units of People Incorporated, which has a staff of more than 700 and last year served more than 12,000 people.

One priority, Waddell said, is to continue to grow by expanding to rural and underserved communities beyond the Twin Cities.

Waddell also wants to assist in building on the organization’s integrated-care model, which addresses medical needs and social factors such as homelessness, unemployment or poverty, in addition to clients’ mental health, Waddell said.

“Wendy’s deep experience in serving the Twin Cities mental health community will play a critical role as People Incorporated continues to lead the way in providing innovative, integrated mental health services to those who need it most,” CEO Jill Wiedemann-West said in a statement.

Waddell has earned a nursing degree from the University of Manitoba, a master’s degree in nursing from the University of Texas and a doctorate in health care administration from Capella University.

Tickets to People Incorporated’s 50th anniversary celebration are available at peopleincorporated.org through Sept. 30.

Q: How will People Incorporated grow beyond expanding its footprint?

A: We’re looking a center of excellence strategy that may begin as soon as 2020. Doing more thought leadership in policy and advocacy and partnerships with other community providers. My role will be to ensure that the operations team is advancing excellence in integrative mental health care, utilizing evidence-based practices to care [for] all aspects of the clients’ recovery path.

Q: To what do you attribute People Incorporated’s longevity?

A: The company operates with a great deal of integrity and transparency. There are some things we do that insurance isn’t paying for but we do because it’s the right thing to do. It’s an agency that’s committed to taking care of the clients. We provide the care that they need and we’re doing the right thing and it’s rewarded with longevity.

Q: How did mental health become your focus?

A: I grew up with two parents who were both health care leaders. I entered nursing school not sure what part of nursing I would go into. Then I fell in love with psychiatry in my first clinical rotation because it’s so blatantly team based. It looks at that person with a mental illness in terms of what else we can do to help.


Todd Nelson is a freelance writer in Lake Elmo. His e-mail is todd_nelson@mac.com.