James Larson retires after serving community for 45 years

Psychiatrist served as medical director at Clay Behavioral Health Clinic

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MIDDLEBURG – The Medical Director at Clay Behavioral Health Clinic retired after 45 years of service in the community.

Dr. James Larson is a psychiatrist who has served Clay County in more ways than one. He served in the U.S. Navy for 10 years, with each of those years spent at NAS Jax. He also owned a private practice office and helped those that came to the Clay Behavioral Health Clinic.

But now he’s a man living the life of retirement. While he won’t be in medical offices throughout the county anymore, he can still be spotted around town.

“I retired from private practice two years ago,” Larson said. “I continued at the [Clay Behavioral] but I started to feel tired. I’m 76 and I figured it was time for retirement so that’s what I decided to do, but I’m not going anywhere. I’ll still be here.”

So will his legacy, according to Clay Behavioral CEO Irene M. Toto.

“Up until he retired, Dr. Larson was been the only medical director we had at Clay Behavioral,” she said. “He’s been the one consistent thing since the beginning of the agency. The community owns a huge debt of gratitude to Dr. Larson. He was with Orange Park Medical Center and he had his own private practice. He reduced his other obligations, but he remained constant at Clay Behavioral. He provided a lot of support to me and other successors.

“He’s one of the reasons why we are what we are today. He was doing this long before anyone was talking about behavioral services.”

Larson first moved to Orange Park in 1972 as a physician drafted to serve in the military. After completing a residency for psychiatry, he was assigned a position at the Naval Regional Medical Center at NAS Jax. There he treated active duty military personnel with psychiatric illnesses.

Larson said work was always busy on the base and it makes sense. Military members see their fair share of mental illnesses like post-traumatic stress disorder throughout their career.

“It was nice being able to help those that needed it,” Larson said.

During his tenure at the base, Larson opened a private practice office to treat military dependents because there weren’t psychiatrists in the area to serve these patients, according to Larson. A band of citizens in the medical field created the Clay Behavioral around the same time as a way to serve residents in the area that otherwise would not be able to afford service.

“We served those that might not be able to afford it otherwise but still needed it,” Larson said.

A few years after the clinic opened, Larson was asked in 1982 to join the board of directors and serve as the medical director.

“They knew about my work,” Larson said. “It was a nice feeling and it’s what I went into medicine for: to help people that couldn’t be helped before. It was an honor to be asked to take that position.”

Larson resigned from the military around the same time after reaching the rank of Commander. He’d been asked to move to San Diego and not wanting to displace his family from Clay County and wanting to pursue his private practice and new Medical Director position full-time, resigning from the military was his best solution.

He quickly got to work post-military and went to the state capital to ask for a Certificate of Need so that what is now the Orange Park Medical Center could open an in-patient psychiatric unit. Larson became that unit’s director for a number of years.

Larson retired from private practice in September of 2017, but he continued his work at Clay Behavioral until last month.

He retired from the clinic in December, but he’ll never forget the work he did there.

“Even in retirement, I still think about my patients,” Larson said. “They stuck with me. I loved that about the job – being able to help patients in need and learn about who they are in the process. I enjoyed it and it’s one of the things I’ll miss most.

“I loved working with the patients. Hopefully they feel the same. I brought psychiatry to Orange Park and Clay County. It was what I wanted to do and that’s what happened.”

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