Sheila Boltz, a social worker and trailblazer in the psychiatric community who advocated dignity and respect for people with mental illness, died March 15 of heart and lung disease, her family said. She was 70.
As a therapist, teacher, administrator and activist, Ms. Boltz was an ardent proponent of voluntary alternatives to forced psychiatric hospitalizations. She pioneered a social rehabilitation model in Sacramento that emphasizes teaching basic life skills such as how to make decisions or how to handle conflict successfully to help formerly institutionalized people regain a place in society.
In 1976, she opened a board-and-care home for severe psychiatric patients called Midtown Manor that became Turning Point, a leading regional provider of mental health therapy, housing and job services. With fewer than three staff workers to serve 43 clients, she introduced the use of patients in recovery as peer counselors to model appropriate behavior and inspire others in need.
"She taught me how to keep a calm head and a big heart," Turning Point chief executive officer John Buck said.
Ms. Boltz went on to help homeless people and jail inmates receive psychiatric services as a Sacramento County program coordinator. She was on the board of Consumers Self Help, which runs wellness centers and the Office of Patients' Rights for Sacramento and Yolo counties. She developed a program at Human Resources Consultants to provide social rehabilitation and medication support services for clients.
"Sheila's main focus in all of her work was honoring the dignity of mental health consumers," said Dave Hosseini, retired executive director of Consumers Self Help. "She was a real advocate for human rights in many ways."
Born in 1942 in Los Angeles, Sheila Ann Creager moved with her family to Citrus Heights and graduated from Highlands High School. She earned a master's degree in social work from California State University, Sacramento, and was a doctoral candidate at the California School of Professional Psychology.
She began working in 1970 as a psychiatric social worker at Sutter Memorial Hospital and taught mental health courses in the Los Rios Community College District. Until recently, she provided training statewide on hiring mental health clients.
She married Ron Boltz, who retired as a professor of social work at CSUS. They raised three children - including a son, Jeffrey who died in 2001 - and remained close after their marriage ended in divorce.
"If anybody was born to be a social worker, it was her," her former husband said. "All of her activities were just trying to make a better society and a better life for everyone."
Ms. Boltz was a woman of passionate causes and quirky charm. She was an opera fan who spent many nights at the San Francisco Opera and many hours at home listening to mezzo-soprano Cecilia Bartoli. She was a longtime smoker who wore her long hair in a signature braid and was "a beatnik at heart," her daughter Jennifer said.
She watched liberal commentator Rachel Maddow on TV every night and refused to shop at a grocery chain for years after the United Farm Workers ended its grape boycott. She campaigned against the death penalty and wrote "Bye Bye Lungren," a song opposing former Republican Rep. Dan Lungren, which she recorded with a group of seniors for YouTube.
"She had numbers for Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer on her phone," her daughter said. "She had the White House on speed dial."
Born: Dec. 10, 1942
Died: March 15, 2013
Survived by: Children, Paul and Jennifer, both of Sacramento; brother, Ron Creager of San Leandro; one grandson
Services: Private Call The Bee's Robert D. Dávila, (916) 321-1077. Follow him on Twitter @bob_davila.
Editor's note: This story was changed on March 25 to add information about Ms. Boltz's son Jeffrey.