State will assist in monitoring of Garlington Center

From The Oregonian, Friday, March 6, 1998

The state will monitor a Portland mental health center to assure that seriously emotionally disturbed preschool children continue to receive services in the wake of a turnover in clinic staff.

Madeline Olson, assistant administrator for the state Mental Health and Developmental Disability Services Division, said that staff members from that division and from the Department of Education would monitor the situation starting Monday.

The Garlington Center for Mental Health Care, based in North and Northeast Portland, has given the state plans on its care for the children, Olson said.

“We will be there to see that that is happening.”

Multnomah County mental health officials have been monitoring care for adult and other child clients at the clinic since 14 high-level staff members announced their resignations last month. Most of them left in mid-February.

More will leave

Three clinic employees working in the psychological day treatment program for the emotionally disturbed preschool children will leave at the end of this week.

Olson and Phyllis Paulson, chief executive officer of the Garlington Center, said that this has been a transition week with departing staff working with newly assigned staff. The state, Olson said, will be on hand Monday to be sure that the quality of care is not diminished as new staff members take over.

The state contracts directly with the clinic for the day treatment, including special education programs, for up to 10 children.

Multnomah County, using state, federal and county money, contracts with the center for programs aimed at adults and other children. The county recently visited the center at least twice with a survey team including psychiatric professionals to assess care of clients.

Lolenzo Poe Jr., director of the county’s Department of Community and Family Services, and Olson said this week that the clinic had cooperated in assuring them that services to clients would not be jeopardized.

“We are confident, that while this is a very difficult time and not ideal for staff turnovers, that Garlington has made every effort to ensure continuity of care and quality of treatment,” Olson said.

Paulson and Theresa Williams-Stoudamire, a Garlington board member, said the county and state visits are welcome.

“We have nothing to hide,” Williams-Stoudamire said.

Problems did occur in the initial walkout. For example, some clients faced potential or real problems in getting prescriptions.

“There was some scrambling” to get prescription orders reinstated, Olson said.

Clients express anxiety

Some clients have expressed anxiety over the loss of staff members they are accustomed to working with. Easing their concerns, Olson said, “will take a little time. It is very alarming to people with these kinds of disorders.”

The situation developed last month when 15 staff members, including the medical director, Dr. Nicholas Drakos, sent the board a letter demanding a meeting to discuss complaints about Paulson’s management of the clinic. The next day, Paulson fired Drakos.

Several staff members met with the board, which also met with Paulson. The board then voted unanimously to back Paulson, and 14 staff members turned in resignations.

Maxine Stone, a board member at the time, resigned that same week even though she had voted with the rest of the board. “I felt we didn’t give enough time and consideration to the concerns of the staff,” she said recently. “It was a muddy kind of resolution. I wanted to slow things down.”

The board, she said, made no effort to ask all parties to step back from the confrontation.

In her resignation letter, Stone, a former administrator of another mental health clinic, wrote that she had supervised or worked with a number of the employees who resigned “and have found them to be not only exemplary clinicians, but solid managers as well.”

Williams-Stoudamire said the board was not allowed a cooling off period. “That was not the option that the staff gave to us.”

The center, like other such clinics, has had to trim staff numbers because of reduced revenue. The decrease is due to a change in the way Medicaid reimburses the clinics for services. As a result, it is reorganizing and not filling all of the vacancies. Paulson said about seven positions have been filled under a new structure.

She and Williams-Stoudamire have called the departures an opportunity. “If we were part of the Wall Street exchange,” Williams-Stoudamire said, “our stock would go up.”