Review finds verbal abuse toward OSH patient from Mary Claire Buckley

From the Salem Statesman Journal, March 3, 2011

A state investigation found that the executive director of the state Psychiatric Security Review Board verbally abused an Oregon State Hospital patient, who said the abuse left him feeling “like a piece of trash.”

READ – Investigative Report on incident involving Mary Claire Buckley, prepared by the DHS Office of Investigations and Training

Mary Claire Buckley‘s conduct was “coercing” and “disrespectful,” demonstrating “poor judgment,” according to an inquiry by the state Office of Investigations and Training.

Her abusive remarks reportedly were made in January, as she challenged a male patient for bucking a board decision to place him in a community-based secure residential treatment facility. The patient desired a less-restrictive setting.

Buckley has been the PSRB’s executive director for two decades. Critics say that her influence has prompted the board to take a conservative approach to releasing patients from the Salem psychiatric facility, resulting in excessive stints of hospitalization. The governor-appointed board monitors hundreds of forensic patients at the state hospital and controls their discharge dates.

The Office of Investigations and Training’s finding of verbal abuse does not carry any penalty or punishment for the longtime PSRB director, who serves at the discretion of the board.

The board issued a statement saying that it fully supports Buckley.

The investigation report, dated Feb. 22 and obtained Tuesday by the Statesman Journal, says Buckley made abusive comments to a patient Jan. 19 as the person was jogging with a staff member on the OSH campus.

At the time, Buckley was riding in a vehicle driven by a board staff member. Rolling down the window to speak to the patient, she reportedly took him to task for refusing to accept a board decision that called for him to enter a Secure Residential Treatment Facility, or STRF.

As recounted by the patient and the attendant hospital staffer, Buckley made intimidating remarks, such as: “I’m really disappointed in you. You’d better go to (STRF). If you don’t, there’s going to be ramifications. You’d better take that (STRF) placement. This is your only option. There is no other option for you.”

The hospital staff member reportedly interpreted Buckley’s remarks as being “threatening and abusive” to the patient.

The patient described his encounter with the PSRB director as “scary” and “intimidating.” He said it left him feeling “defeated” and “like a piece of trash.”

The OIT report does not identify the patient by name. It refers to him only as “AV,” short for alleged victim.

The patient reportedly fretted about facing possible repercussions for defying the board, such as being transferred from a minimum-security cottage on the hospital grounds to a treatment ward with fewer privileges.

Interviewed by an OIT investigator, Buckley denied yelling at the patient. She said it was not her intent to coerce, intimidate or threaten.

As Buckley told it, she was acting in the best interests of the patient by encouraging him to go along with the board’s decision.

Buckley reportedly stated that “she knows she is the ‘personification’ of the board” but denied having any influence on OSH decisions concerning any given patient.

“She said she does not discuss with OSH how OSH should treat a particular patient,” the report says. “She said the PSRB does not determine which ward a patient is in or what hospital privileges a patient has.”

However, some members of the patient’s treatment team reportedly expressed concern that Buckley’s remarks “could undermine the perceived integrity of the PSRB and OSH administration because of the implication that Buckley knew of behind-the-scene ramifications or consequences for AV’s refusal to follow a PSRB decision.”

In substantiating the allegation of verbal abuse, the OIT inquiry concluded that Buckley’s statements to the patient “would reasonably appear to be more a threat than helpful counsel.”

The report adds: “Buckley has a unique position of authority as the PSRB executive, one that is well known by OSH patients. She should know that her opinions expressed directly to a patient carry an unusually heavy impact.”

Buckley’s duties include informing the board of the status of current and former patients under its jurisdiction, implementing board policies and decisions, supervising work operations of the board’s staff and preparing the agency’s budget.

The board issued a written statement of support for Buckley: “The Psychiatric Security Review board (PSRB) and its Executive Director Mary Claire Buckley deeply regret that anyone felt harmed in this situation. The Board has carefully reviewed the report submitted by the Office for Investigations and Training and had an opportunity to speak with Ms. Buckley. We do not believe additional action is required. Ms. Buckley has been the Executive Director of PSRB for 20 years and we continue to fully support her in that role.”

Buckley said Tuesday that she was disappointed by the verbal abuse finding and reiterated her assertion that she was trying to help the patient by encouraging him to leave OSH and go to the community facility.

“It was clearly not my intent to upset him or cause him any consternation but to join the chorus of those who were trying to urge him to take an opportunity that was available,” she said.

Buckley said she regretted making contact with the patient.

“I regret the circumstances of that, for sure,” she said. “I wouldn’t have a conversation like that with a patient again, from a car while they’re on the lawn. … Do I regret stopping the car? Of course. But I know this individual. I’ve had many dealings with him, and I never would have said that if I thought he was going to take it that way.”