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Fresno County Has New Leaders for Social Services, Behavioral Health

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Sanja Kovacevic Bugay, left, is Fresno County's new Social Services director while Susan L. Holt will lead Behavioral Health. (Fresno County)
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Sanja Kovacevic Bugay is returning to Fresno County’s Department of Social Services, but this time it’s as the director.

Bugay succeeds Delfino Delfino Neira, who resigned in November of last year after the department was found to be housing minors under the care of Fresno County Child Protective Services in unsafe and unsanitary living conditions. Maria Aguirre became the interim director on Dec. 13, 2021.

Bugay has spent the last six-plus years heading Kings County’s Human Services Agency.

During that time, she overhauled Child Welfare Services, resulting in a reduction of foster care placement cases and eliminating emergency response backlogs. Bugay also led the Kings County Whole Person Care Pilot, which addressed high emergency room use and jail recidivism rates.

”Sanja’s previous experience working in Fresno County, coupled with the innovative work she has done at Kings County, make her the right choice to navigate our Department of Social Services in the years ahead,” said Fresno County Administrative Officer Paul Nerland in a news release. “We are thrilled to have her return to the Fresno County family.”

The Fresno County Board of Supervisors appointed Bugay on Tuesday.

Earlier in her career, Bugay was Fresno County’s deputy director of social services. During that time, she oversaw the county’s implementation of the Affordable Care Act and the DSS Service Center, which improved the speed and accuracy of services for Medi-Cal and CalFresh clients.

Supervisors Promote Holt to Behavioral Health Director

In addition, the board elevated Susan L. Holt, LMFT, to Behavioral Health Director and Public Guardian on Tuesday.

Holt became interim director after Dawan Utecht left in December 2021 to join Alameda-based Telecare Inc. as a senior executive. Utecht had led the department for more than eight years.

Holt will lead a department with more than 700 employees and 70 programs.

“It is truly an honor to be appointed as the next Director of Behavioral Health and Public Guardian. I am fortunate to work with a committed and passionate team of colleagues within our
department and across our network of partner organizations,” Holt said. “The department has made great strides in the last decade to expand our array of services while also strengthening
our culture of wellness and recovery. ”

Said Nerland: “As the interim director, Susan has done an excellent job managing the department during this critical transition. Her expertise and passion for helping the Fresno County residents with their mental health wellness are among the many gifts she brings to bear as the new director of Behavioral Health.”

Behavioral Health’s mission is helping residents with mental health or substance use challenges. The department provides programs, treatment, education, prevention, and information. It also funds community programs and services to assist those who are under-insured or have no insurance to obtain care.

Bill McEwen is news director and columnist for GV Wire. He joined GV Wire in August 2017 after 37 years at The Fresno Bee. With The Bee, he served as Opinion Editor, City Hall reporter, Metro columnist, sports columnist and sports editor through the years. His work has been frequently honored by the California Newspapers Publishers Association, including authoring first-place editorials in 2015 and 2016. Bill and his wife, Karen, are proud parents of two adult sons, and they have two grandsons. You can contact Bill at 559-492-4031 or at Send an Email

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