By Abby Sewell
August 24, 2015

The director of Los Angeles County's mental health department -- the largest public mental health system in the nation -- announced Monday that he plans to retire effective Nov. 6.

Marvin Southard, 66, a licensed clinical social worker with a doctorate from UCLA, has headed the Department of Mental Health for 17 years. 

"There is a season, turn, turn, turn and a time for every purpose under heaven," he wrote in an email to the agency's staff. "...It has been my absolute honor to lead a department full of skilled professionals who have been truly and honestly dedicated to making the lives of people with mental illness and their families better."

The county's Board of Supervisors earlier this month voted to consolidate the department of mental health with two other health agencies -- the department of health services and the department of public health. Proponents said the new structure will streamline services and improve patient care. And it was supported by unions representing county health workers.

It was opposed, however, by advocates who fear that mental health programs will take a back seat to the concerns of the county hospital system.

Southard said his retirement was "not directly" related to the coming restructuring.

"There were several reasons that played into the decision but in the end it just feels like the right time," he said in an email to The Times.

But Southard appeared to allude to the consolidation in his message to the department's staff.                                                                                    

"I know that your dedication and skill will remain no matter what changes might occur, and on that basis I am optimistic that the work supporting hope, wellness, recovery, and resilience will continue and grow," he wrote.