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Hank Collins to be memorialized today

A new painting and cabinet will serve as memorials to former Jackson County Health and Human Services Director Hank Collins, who spearheaded innovative programs to tackle everything from dirty air to methamphetamine addiction.

The cabinet and a portrait of Collins painted by former Jackson County Counsel Mike Jewett will be unveiled at 6 p.m. Thursday at the new Jackson County Health and Human Services Building, 140 S. Holly St., Medford. The cabinet and portrait will be installed in the lobby.

The event includes brief speeches by former colleagues and Collins' widow. Refreshments will be served.

In 2008, Collins passed away after battling a condition in which the bone marrow stops producing blood cells. He had served as director of Jackson County Health and Human Services since 1989.

One of Collins' dreams was construction of the new building to house the department. County health and human services workers and programs had previously been scattered in multiple buildings, making it difficult for clients with complex problems to get help.

United Way Executive Director Dee Anne Everson said Collins wanted the building to be designed from the beginning with client needs in mind. The building incorporates numerous user-friendly features, such as push buttons that open restroom doors for disabled people.

Everson said Collins transformed how services are provided by encouraging partnerships between government agencies and nonprofit organizations. "He was a real visionary," she said.

The new building houses the department as well as La Clinica, Living Opportunities, Families for Community, Oregon Pain Advisers, the HIV Alliance and the Health Care Coalition of Southern Oregon.

Collins would do his bureaucratic, managerial tasks, but would also walk the Bear Creek Greenway looking for people to help, Everson said. Homeless people often seek shelter in the wooded areas surrounding the pedestrian and bike path.

"He had a big personality, and if you met him you remembered him," said Jackson County Health and Human Services Integration Manager Stephanie Mendenhall. "He was from Tennessee and he still had an accent. He was a big part of bringing the nonprofit and government worlds together to better serve individuals."

Collins was a driving force behind a methamphetamine task force, county provision of birth control services, needle exchanges for drug users and reductions in woodstove use and open burning, which greatly improved the county's air quality. When the county was hit with budget problems, he and his staff sought more grants so the department could keep providing services to those in need, colleagues said.

Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-776-4486 or valdous@mailtribune.com. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/VickieAldous.