Three candidates vie for Oregon State Hospital post

From the Salem Statesman Journal, July 22, 2010

Three administrators of state psychiatric hospitals outside Oregon came to Salem this week to tour Oregon State Hospital and interview for the top job at the 127-year-old mental institution.

Now, two state officials — Human Services Director Bruce Goldberg and Addictions and Mental Health Division Director Richard Harris — will weigh recommendations from four interview panels and determine which candidate appears to be the right fit to tackle the tough job.

Harris, who sat in on interviews with the three superintendent candidates on Tuesday, said Wednesday that selection of a top prospect will happen soon.

“I hope we can make the decision to start vetting somebody by the end of this week,” he said.

A projected two-week vetting process of the top candidate will focus on contacting people familiar with the prospect’s track record, including leaders of mental health advocacy groups, key legislators, co-workers and others, Harris said.

If the inquiries go well, Harris said, contract negotiations with the prospective OSH superintendent will ensue.

“I’d like to have negotiated an agreement with somebody by the end of August, and I’d like them to be here in Oregon by the end of September,” he said.

Harris said he has been favorably impressed by all three candidates.

“I like all three of them,” he said. “I spent quite a bit of time with them. They’re very engaging and have good track records.”

State officials have declined the Statesman Journal’s requests for release of the names and résumés of the three candidates, citing the need to protect their current employment. Harris reiterated that stance Wednesday.

“I’ve asked everybody to be super-vigilant about (not) revealing their names because I don’t want to jeopardize the positions they’re in,” he said. “That’s why I’ve been reluctant to let anybody know outside of this process who we’re interviewing.”

Harris declined to reveal the states in which the three candidates presently work.

“I would prefer not to, simply because once I tell you what the states are, then, in fact, it becomes pretty clear who the candidates are,” he said.

Interviews of the three candidates took place Tuesday at the Salem headquarters of the state Department of Human Services. The four interview panels included state hospital workers, mental health advocates and officials of the state Psychiatric Security Review Board. Other panel members included Salem Police Chief Jerry Moore and Marion County District Attorney Walt Beglau.

The search for a new OSH leader began in April, following the forced resignation of superintendent Roy Orr.

Orr was forced out by Goldberg and Harris. They said new leadership was necessary to speed up the pace of change at OSH. The U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division has sharply criticized patient care and hospital conditions during an ongoing, four-year investigation of the hospital.

Before coming to OSH, Orr had not run a psychiatric hospital. He was a former chief executive of McKenzie-Willamette Medical Center in Springfield.

In seeking Orr’s successor, Goldberg and Harris placed a premium on recruiting a proven psychiatric hospital leader.

“Roy did a great job in many respects, but there were many factors unique to public state hospital institutions that he had a very steep learning curve for,” Harris said. “This time, we don’t want to have somebody who is trying to catch up on the job.”

Harris said the three candidates to become OSH superintendent have proven their ability to shorten patient stays at psychiatric hospitals, reduce the use of seclusion and restraints as patient control measures, deliver effective patient care, manage institutions in tough economic times and maintain solid working relationships with employees.

“The investigation we’ve done so far pretty well tells us that all three of these individuals have been running institutions that have been making progress in those national, universal measurements,” he said.

The three candidates have different management styles, Harris said.

“What I saw were three well-qualified people, all with sort of different approaches to the way they would manage the Oregon State Hospital,” he said. “So that is going to give us some thought about precisely what approach we think would be the most valuable in this situation.”

Brant Johnson, a state hospital mental health therapist who also serves as a nonvoting member on the hospital’s citizen-led advisory board, said he’s optimistic about the facility landing a first-rate superintendent.

He described the three candidates as “people that have experience with the DOJ, experience with turning around institutions and experience with running big institutions like ours.

“So we’re really going to get somebody that is ready to start turning things around day one. There’s not going to be any on-the-job learning. They’re just going to hit the job running.”