Astoria Pointe, the North Coast’s residential drug and alcohol treatment center, is under new management following the abrupt firing of the center’s two top officials.
Larry Peterson, the company’s chief executive officer, and Milt Parham, the chief operations officer, were fired in November.
Following their dismissal, three other staff members left Astoria Pointe and The Rosebriar, the company’s sister facility that serves women patients.
While no one will give specifics, Astoria Point officials cite a recently published report about Peterson’s previous employment and how it ended. Officials say that pattern was repeated in Astoria which led to Peterson’s dismissal.
Peterson had managed the treatment center since 2007. Parham had worked with the center since 2008.
Now, Josie Herndon, a company shareholder, is leading Astoria Pointe.
“I’ve committed to this position and I’ve worked in our field of health care and addiction since 1987, so I have experience – administrative experience,” said Herndon.
“I’m happy that I am able to come in and make positive changes. I know what the standards are in our country because I’ve worked in high-standard treatment centers for many years, so I’m bringing those standards to Astoria Pointe and I’m excited about that.”
Contact was made with Peterson repeatedly for this story but he did not return calls to The Daily Astorian; Parham’s number is not listed.
A fresh start
The new managers are seeking a fresh start while they investigate the conduct of their fired executives.
Herndon came to Astoria from her home in California with the intention of staying two weeks, asked by owners and founders Bill and Ellie Dooner, who live out of state.
Now, she’s here indefinitely.
“Perhaps the standards weren’t what they should be. And patient safety is No. 1 for the Dooners and for myself,” Herndon said. “The reason we do this work is so that we make sure our patients are safe and have the ability to get better and find a recovery in their life and for their family and also heal from addiction.”
She said she came here with the intention of promoting Parham to CEO, but startling revelations led the company to dismiss Parham, following Peterson’s termination.
“I didn’t realize what was happening,” Herndon said. “I was going to intentionally come and promote Milt Parham to be the CEO. But then I realized there were some safety issues, and patient issues and staff issues that I was very concerned about. So I shared those with Bill (Dooner) and then he asked if I would stay.”
Although details of the accusations will not likely be made public until after an internal investigation, similar situations in Peterson’s past were recently revealed, following a Washington state court case that opened an internal audit from his previous employer.
That report, put together by Susan Troppmann, a member of a Spokane, Wash. law firm, alleges Peterson:
• Had inappropriate business relations with a board member;
• Wrongfully spent hospital funds on business expenses including trips;
• Hired a “significant other” who was unqualified and didn’t work the prescribed number of hours;
• Made a $100,000 yearly contract with a professional friend in California;
• Engaged in sexually inappropriate conduct with hospital employees;
• Was retaliatory when questioned about his conduct and spending, and ridiculed the questioner.
But that will not take away from what the rehabilitation center strives to do, the new administrators said.
“I think things are greater than ever at this point,” said Bill Dooner, 80, who is optimistic about the future of Astoria Pointe. “Josie is going to bring great things and I’m excited about her being here and bringing in new people, new staff and a new sense of integrity.
“There had to be some changes and there had to be some terminations, but things are now going to be much more vibrant and successful and this will allow us to continue and do what we’re here to do,” he said.
‘Decision was appropriate’
Jim Herndon, the new physician’s assistant and treatment services director at Astoria Pointe and Josie Herndon’s husband, said people have a right to be concerned with the “drama” at the facility, because the treatment center is a large employer. People depend on us doing our work, he said.
“The decision to get rid of Larry was definitely appropriate, and was not taken lightly,” he said.
While Jim Herndon expressed fears that the issue will end up in court, he explained that it will not affect the way in which the facility is run on a day-to-day basis.
Several new staff have been added to increase the success of clients in rehab.
Josie Herndon said the new staff, who include licensed therapists, licensed nurses and three new counselors, will help to bring the company up to higher standards, rated on scales from the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities.
Prior to the Herndons coming to Astoria Pointe, they said the treatment center was lacking in several areas.
Although Jim Herndon said specific details could not be discussed until after an internal investigation, he directed attention to the Washington newspaper, The Lake Chelan Mirror, where Troppman’s report surfaced last spring about Peterson, the former CEO of the Lake Chelan Community Hospital.
When asked if these former allegations played any part in the dismissal, Josie Herndon handed over a file from Chelan County Superior Court, noting that the current situation and the events in Chelan are remarkably similar.
Tony Green, the director of communication and policy for Oregon Attorney General John Kroger, said most criminal investigations are handled by local law enforcement and the department of justice would only get involved if the district attorney or local law enforcement asked for their assistance.
Clatsop County District Attorney Josh Marquis said if Astoria Pointe, or any nonprofit or business, files a police report after its own investigation, the district attorney’s office would then become involved.
However, for public relations reasons, Marquis said organizations sometimes choose not to involve the law. But if the district attorney’s office learns about claims, such as misuse of funds or sexual misconduct, they have the authority to intervene, with or without a police report.
Law enforcement intervening isn’t the only kind of overseeing Astoria Pointe and other treatment facilities face.
The Addictions and Mental Health Division of the Oregon Health Authority licenses all residential treatment facilities in Oregon that provide alcohol and other drug treatment, according to Rebeka Gipson-King, the public affairs officer for Oregon State Hospital.
These licenses are valid for up to two years. The Addictions and Mental Health Division evaluates the facilities and their providers at least every two years to make sure they are in compliance with all applicable standards, Gipson-King said.
The Washington file
The file from Chelan highlights the attorney’s report into the running of the Lake Chelan Community Hospital. Peterson was accused of inappropriate behavior, verbal and physical sexual contact with employees and hiring his partner, Jennifer Robinson.
“The vast majority of people I interviewed,” Troppmann’s report states, “believe Ms. Robinson has no real job duties and is totally incompetent.”
“Several employees said Mr. Peterson rarely attends the professional conferences he registers for, and that the trips are essentially hospital-sponsored vacations,” the report states. Peterson allegedly often took his “significant other” on the trips with him, but she was still paid for her time off. She repeatedly sought reimbursement for trips that were not part of her hospital duties, the report said.
It was uncovered that Peterson sought $23,334 in expenses incurred for travel, professional conferences, recruitment and marketing in a five-month period in 2007, taking an average of five trips a month, before he resigned from the hospital later that year.
Sexual conduct comes to light
The internal audit in Chelan County had been locked up as a personnel file until April 2011 when a court ruled in favor of a public records request from attorneys of the CEO who followed Peterson into the job. He sued the hospital following his own departure, claiming they fired him because he was gay.
That’s when the Dooners were informed of Peterson’s newly unsealed file.
The report, prepared by the attorney, Troppmann, states, “A significant number of people accused Mr. Peterson of inappropriate sexual conduct, both verbal and physical. As an example, Mr. Peterson told one female employee to ‘Come into my office and sit under my desk,’ apparently alluding to oral sex. Mr. Peterson is described as a touchy or huggy individual. The physical contact bothers some people.
“Mr. Peterson has allegedly had sex with and/or sexually propositioned (Lake Chelan Community Hospital) employees. I was informed that Mr. Peterson has had consensual encounters with some employees, and made unwelcome advances on others. Reportedly, these encounters and advances have taken place during hospital-sponsored trips.
“Mr. Peterson’s reputation for infidelity and adventurous sexual behavior seems fairly widespread. For example, there are unsubstantiated rumors that he has had affairs with community members and business associates. A few people suspect Mr. Peterson and Ms. Robinson seek sexual partners on the Internet.”
The report also states Peterson used the hospital’s computers to send sexually inappropriate emails to employees.
Peterson is not alone. Parham is noted in the report as having a felony record that was undisclosed, including a 1986 charge of embezzlement of an Employer Retirement Savings Account trust fund he managed until 1980, and viewing pornographic materials on Lake Chelan Community Hospital’s computers.
The embezzlement charge “was ‘adjudicated’ in Orange County, Calif., in 1987, and was reportedly ‘handled as a drug case,'” the report reads. Parham admitted to Troppmann that he was convicted, according to her document.
What happens next
In June, Peterson told The Daily Astorian of the treatment center’s plans to expand to the Long Beach Peninsula. He met with the Long Beach City Council and members seemed supportive of the idea.
One problem: the Dooners – who, as a family, hold 90 percent of the company – had no idea about this move. (The other 10 percent is divided up among various shareholders, including Herndon.)
Peterson told The Daily Astorian at the time that the male and female treatment centers had been running at a 90-percent capacity rate and were consistently forced to turn clients away because of a lack of space.
The third facility on the Washington side of the Columbia River would have been an opportunity to help more people. A former convalescent home on Pioneer Road was eyed as a potential property.
But, it turns out, Peterson is going ahead with this idea, opening a treatment center with Parham and the rest of the employees who have left Astoria.
“They are going to,” Herndon said, of Peterson’s plans for a new treatment center. “And I think that’s a conflict of interest.”