Two managers in OSH cottages are reassigned

From the Salem Statesman Journal, March 29. 2011

Two managers in Oregon State Hospital’s transitional housing program have been reassigned to other duties, and an independent investigation will look into patient complaints against the employees.

Superintendent Greg Roberts reassigned the two nurses, Larry Belcher and Elaine Roper, on Tuesday, one day after patients outlined a litany of complaints against them in a letter to the hospital chief.

Patients told Roberts that “gross mismanagement” of the six-cottage, 36-patient transitional program had created a climate of “continual fear” for patients.

They alleged, in part, that the two nurses have:

  • Belittled and intimidated patients.
  • Discouraged patients from filing grievances.
  • Retaliated against patients who pursue complaints.
  • Failed to issue “a transition level appropriate number of passes” for patients seeking community outings.
  • Forced “very physically ill patients to (attend) Treatment Mall instead of attending to symptoms.”
  • Used “false or selective charting in an effort to discredit patient complaints; falsely applying mental illness ‘symptoms’ to patients who do complain about treatment.”
  • Displayed “open hostility” by yelling at other staff members in the presence of patients.

“In short, we feel the actions of both Mr. Belcher and Ms. Roper place us in danger, are counter to our treatment needs, and fail to live up to the hospital’s own Code of Ethics,” states the patients’ letter. “We are asking for their immediate removal from cottage staffing and an assurance that they will not simply be moved to where they may harm other residents.”

Hospital officials have touted the transitional program as a reform-minded measure, designed as the final stop for forensic patients preparing to leave the Salem psychiatric facility and begin new lives in Oregon communities.

As patients tell it, the progressive program has gone awry. Abusive management has “furthered the hospital-wide perception that the cottages are no longer the desired living location, in turn destroying any incentive for non-cottage residents to achieve treatment goals and progress through OSH,” states the complaint letter.

Patient Matthew Kirby described the fear factor this way: “When a key transitioning part of the hospital is run via fear, no one wants to speak up and face more time. It is a vicious circle if we cannot freely address problems due to intimidation.”

In addition to notifying Roberts, patients circulated the letter to mental-health advocacy groups, legislators, state officials and news reporters.

“Because all other attempts to correct these problems have been fruitless, we are forced to make our demands as publicly as possible,” states the letter.

Roberts said Tuesday in a message to the Oregon State Hospital Advisory Board that “because of the gravity” of the allegations, he had referred the case to the state Office of Investigations and Training for independent review.

“In order to ensure the process is fair and objective for everyone involved, including the accused staff, the staff members named in the letter will be assigned to another area while the OIT investigation goes forward,” he wrote. “Depending on the outcome of the investigation, we will take the appropriate action.”

Roberts added: “Please be assured that hospital leadership will explore all of the concerns raised in the letter. I also want to emphasize that patients have the right to file a grievance at any time.”

Cottage resident Neal Forbes told the Statesman Journal that patients in the transitional program had encountered management “stonewalling on issues that are important to our treatment.”

For instance, supervised patient outings into the community have repeatedly been stymied by Belcher, Forbes said.

“To keep down overtime, he basically schedules nurses and mental-health techs out here to the bare minimum, and when he does this he essentially takes away our passes because the staff is not available to take us out,” he said.

Stingy issuance of passes has become one of many recurring sore points for patients in the transitional program, Forbes said.

“On the one hand, we’re told we’re expected and encouraged to apply for passes,” he said. “But when it comes to the passes materializing, there’s trouble finding the staff to actually get things done. We’ve had pass after pass after pass fall right through the cracks.”