As a hospital operations specialist for the Missouri Department of Mental Health, Andy Atkinson coordinates the work of the state's nine comprehensive psychiatric service facilities, including Fulton State Hospital.
He serves as a liaison between the nine facilities, helping ensure policies are implemented similarly at each facility.
Atkinson, 42, has spent his entire career in the mental health field, working with children, adolescents and adults.
After he suffered a serious knee injury while playing football for Evangel University, he accepted the advice of his mother and took a nurses' aid course. The classes opened the door to his first job as a mental health technician at Marian Center, a hospital mental health facility in Springfield, his hometown.
There he collected patients' vital signs and helped them with the tasks of daily living. It was that experience that encouraged him to go to nursing school at Pittsburg State University in Kansas.
"I liked the feeling I was helping people and seeing them get better. It was very rewarding, and I felt like I was good at it," he said.
He followed his mother out to Charleston, S.C., where he continued to work in the mental health field. Ultimately, he earned two master's degrees from the Institute of Psychiatry at the Medical University of South Carolina.
Atkinson said he was never bothered by the stigma that sometimes is associated with people who suffer from mental illness.
"One of the things I could always do is look past some of those biases and help them with their recovery," he said. "It's an illness, just like any other medical illness. It's not something that should have any stigma attached to it."
During the part of his career where he worked with young people, he particularly liked being able to help their entire families. "Not just with discipline, but with coping strategies. We were able to actually see the progress and the impact of our treatment. That's where we were able to make a difference," he said. "You're not able to see that with acute care."
When he and his wife, Beth, wanted to start a family, they decided to return home to Missouri.
His first job was as director of behavioral health for St. Mary's Health Care Center, where he oversaw a 12-bed inpatient unit.
Eventually an opportunity came in 2006 to work at Fulton State Hospital as the director of quality management. That job led to his current position in the department's central office, where he has worked for a year.
Although he no longer works directly with patients, he still enjoys his job.
"I still do it because I feel I can effect change at the patient level," he said.
In his free time, Atkinson enjoys golf, movies, reading and running. He's interested in wellness, both from a personal and professional perspective.
"I've been a vegetarian for four years, and I'm a vegan now," he said.
"For me, it's more about being healthy."
The couple has been married 22 years, and they have two daughters.
Beth teaches English and reading at Immaculate Conception School.