Tad Gary grew up in a close-knit military family. He was born in Nuremberg, Germany but spent most of his formative years in a humble pocket of Los Angeles in the late 1970s and early 1980s. His parents did their best to shelter him from the gang violence, homelessness, and drug use prevalent in the area at the time.
“Drugs and mental illness, including the resulting housing insecurity that often comes with them, did touch my family, but I was lucky to find two early passions that kept me focused: swimming and music,” says Gary, who swam competitively and played both the saxophone and clarinet.
In the 1980s, Gary’s family moved to Mesa. He attended Red Mountain High School, where he was a stand-out member of the swim team and band. Upon graduating in 1987, Gary was accepted to Northern Arizona University, where he continued down the music path, studying it as a major and performing as a member of NAU Wind Symphony, NAU Marching Band and Flagstaff Youth Orchestra.
“Music fed, and continues to feed, my soul,” says Gary. “But as I played my heart out day after day, I couldn’t help but feel my decision to pursue music was egocentric in the grander scheme of life.”
While he loved how music – especially the attention and accolades associated with performing – made him feel, he wondered if his life was meant for more than just making himself feel good.
“By the time I was in college, to say my family was even more significantly touched by mental illness and substance use than before would be an understatement,” says Gary. “I felt compelled to help others dealing with what our family was facing, and so I made the decision to change majors – and the course of my life in the process.”
While he still played, Gary pivoted his studies to psychology, earning his undergraduate degree from NAU in 1991. He would continue his studies in the field, first at Louisiana State University, followed by Southeastern Louisiana University and finally at University of Arizona. In more recent years, he also completed education in finance and accounting from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.
“My time in Louisiana also marked the beginning of my journey coming out as a gay man,” says Gary, who has been with his partner, Eric Sells, for more than 21 years. “There was never one defining moment when I made a declaration. For me, it was more series of smaller moments over a series of years that built until it was widely known by everyone in my life.”
Armed with multiple degrees in psychology, counseling and special education, Gary’s career began in earnest as a crisis therapist, helping individuals and families dealing with a mental health or substance use crisis..
“My time on the front lines fighting mental illness in our state opened my eyes to the harsh realities for many, beyond my own personal experiences,” says Gary.
The initial work he did led to a position with the State of Arizona, where he helped people with severe mental illnesses learn to live more independent lives, especially as it related to employment, which in turn led him to working with the Arizona State Hospital, Arizona's only hospital providing court-ordered treatment to people suffering from mental health illnesses.
“It was around this time – the early 2000s – I started to see the impact that managed care could have on these individuals,” says Gary. “If I got involved with managed care, I knew I could do more good. This led me to = Mercy Care, in 2006.”
Gary started with the organization as a behavioral health case manager. Today, he is Mercy Care’s chief operating officer.
Mercy Care is a not-for-profit managed-care health plan, serving members enrolled in Medicaid and/or Medicare.
“Mercy Care exists to address and advocate for the comprehensive health of its members and their families, with special consideration for the underserved and those with complex health needs regardless of race, color, religion, ethnicity, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, age or disability,” says Gary. “We also provide direct support through grant funding, sponsorship and other financial investments, as well as volunteer service hours, board participation and fundraising efforts to nonprofit organizations and programs that address addiction recovery, housing, school-based services, food insecurity and COVID pandemic support across Arizona.”
According to Gary, since 2016 alone through its community relations arm, the organization has provided more than $9.5 million in community benefits to more than 100 organizations statewide, including March of Dimes, Special Olympics of Arizona, Central Arizona Shelter Services, Teen Lifeline and more.
“We also have programs outside of traditional community reinvestment that are of tremendous importance to me,” says Gary.
One such program is focused on helping the state’s rapidly increasing elderly population.
“We began collaborating with community partners and contracted providers in 2019 and committed $2 million to recruit, train, hire and retain direct-care workers into the field over the next several years,” says Gary. “. By developing a workforce of in-home caregivers to assist with basic needs, older individuals will have the option to remain living safely in their homes, with independence and dignity.”
Gary is also actively involved in a newly announced Mercy Care supported program with Community Bridges.
Beyond all of this, Gary is also a member of the one-n-ten board of directors as well as the Maricopa County Continuum of Care, which is the countywide entity that allocates housing funds, and the Greater Phoenix Chamber. Gary was also appointed to the Phoenix Police Review and Implementation Ad Hoc Committee and is the former president of the Arizona Counselors Association and former President of the Institute for Mental Health Research EpiCenter, serving adolescents experiencing their first episodes of psychosis.
Through his work at Mercy Care as well as his extensive volunteer roles, Gary’s tremendous impact has been felt across Arizona for more than 20 years, and it shows no signs of stopping anytime soon.