One Man’s Mental Health Experience

by AVA News Service, October 2, 2013

Ed note: a former county Mental Health staffer on the Mendocino Coast wrote the following letter to the Hospitality House Board of Directors earlier this month after being fired from the County when the County privatized mental health to (mostly) Redwood Children Services and Ortner Management Group, then fired again after one day working for Redwood Children’s Services. It seems that almost weekly we’re hearing more and more minor (patients unable to find out what number to call or calling only to find that the number is disconnected) and major complaints (such as the one described here) about the mental health privatization. Although the County was supposed to demonstrate that privatization of mental health was cost effective and would provide equal or better service, it’s looking more and more like an inside job that is neither. It’s time for the Board of Supervisors to hold a special hearing on mental health privatization where people like the writer of this letter, and the clients and their family members can raise issues like this.

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This is in regards to Anna Shaw, wife of Mental Health Board director (Jim Shaw) who is also Executive Director of the Hospitality House, the Wellness Center, and the Hospitality Center (the new contractors for Mendocino County Mental Health on the Coast). I do not know the motivations of Mrs. Shaw. However many people in the community believe Anna makes many professional decisions based on her personal biases. I find that she plays favorites with both employees and clients that the Hospitality House serves, and those who are not her favorites are bitterly and vengefully shunned from services, or suddenly find themselves unable to assist in serving or obtaining services in the community. She is not only unprofessional but is unethical and can cost people their lives or livelihood. She is frankly a liability, “a lawsuit waiting to happen.”

On July 15, 2013 I transitioned from the County to Redwood Children’s Services (contractor) as the new sole Crisis Worker for the Coast. Dan Anderson and Chandra Gonzales were happy to have me and hired me. I was responsible for addressing all 5150 assessments — the legal and mental health assessments for emergency psychiatric services. On Monday the 15th the first-ever crisis call came in the morning at 7:50am from the Mendocino Coast District Hospital. I arrived at 8:05am and assessed the client and I made the determination he was gravely disabled due to his mental illness and recommended to Chandra that he be hospitalized. She refuted my case and decided for me to not hospitalize him. Unfortunately for the client the following events occurred.

He began to act out at the hospital and, since he wasn’t being 5150’d, the charge nurse called the police who escorted him out of the hospital and brought him to mental health. All while I was on the phone with Chandra and Ortner Management Group’s (contractor) Jessica in order to get him respite at the Wellness Center (also run by Anna Shaw). Over the next six hours, the client was released by the police to the Wellness Center where he made a scene and left. He went to Safeway and acted out, was cited by the police and released. Then he was picked up by the sheriffs later on and brought back to the Wellness Center where I was asked by Chandra to reassess him. He was still gravely disabled in my assessment, but he could be kept from being hospitalized if he had a safe place to stay and if he would take his medications and be observed until the medications took effect, which could be several days of monitoring. That would be enough to keep him from being placed on a 5150.

I worked with the staff at the Wellness Center to obtain a bed with Anna’s permission at the Hospitality House — although, in my opinion the Hospitality House would not be appropriate for him or for the other clients there due to the level of his psychotic state. However, according to a co-worker Anna had told the co-worker she should never give her opinion to others while working for Anna. It has been my experience working with people that other professionals’ opinions are vital to making decisions regarding services for the client.

In the meantime, Dr. Riley, Dr. Foster, and Todd Harris, PhD, from Ortner Management Group were in town and came to assess the client at the Wellness Center; soon after Anna came in as well. Dr. Riley is the head psychiatrist at North Valley Behavioral Hospital in Yuba City. He quickly and expertly determined if the client did not get on medication in the next 24 hours he would be placed on a 5150 hold. The client agreed to take the medication. Dr. Riley called in the prescription to Safeway. Dr Harris, Dr. Foster, Dr. Riley and I went to pick up the prescription and they instructed me to make sure he took that night’s dose. Meanwhile Anna and a co-worker brought the client to the Hospitality House. I went to the Hospitality House where Anna, the co-worker, and another Hospitality House manager had the client waiting. I asked Anna if the client would be able to go to the Wellness Center (previously the county’s Red House) the following day because he would need constant monitoring likely for a few days until his medications took effect. Anna told me the Wellness Center would be closed tomorrow and she could make an exception for him to stay the day at the Hospitality House.

I asked why the Wellness Center was going to be closed during the week. Anna became angry and stated “it’s none of your business” while in fact, it was my business as a member of the new crisis response team. I monitored the client who took his medications and I left. When I returned in the morning to monitor his medications again, the client had fled during the night. On July 17 the client was arrested for trespassing and the jail called Mental Health to find out why this client was not already hospitalized. The community's biggest concern is that the mentally ill will be “warehoused” in the local jail instead of receiving proper Mental Health treatment. It would seem that the Hospitality House's biggest concern would be that the mentally ill would be cared for in Hospitality House (a billable bed placement for Ortner) rather than a more appropriate placement.

The following night, July 16, I got a call from Dan Anderson of Redwood Children’s Services. In so many words he said he was very sorry but that Anna had complained against me, that she did not want to work with me for Crisis and that Ortner was the one in charge and Anna was Ortner’s main player in the community; therefore his hands were tied and he would have to terminate me according to Anna’s wishes. He went on to mention that he had looked forward to working with me at the beginning and that he was very, very sorry.

I spent approximately eight hours of the workday, working with law enforcement and members of the new Crisis Response Team. In all, I spent one to two minutes in direct interaction with Anna that day and was terminated as a result of that interaction. From my understanding, at the Coast Community Center before it closed, Anna had fired nearly all the staff. She even had to rehire one staff member because she ran out of people to start the Hospitality Center. I’ve seen her decisions have grave consequences on the clients and the clients who came to be employees at the various centers. Many consumers have been obviously discriminated against as witnessed by Mental Health Case Managers and others.

While I was case managing the AT HOME program, there were two clients living together. The Caucasian woman was selling her prescriptions to her roommate, a Hispanic-Native American woman. Anna kicked the Native American woman out of housing and she soon died from an overdose while under case management of her husband, Jim Shaw, who she had hired after firing me. Anna also fired the manager of the Hospitality House at that time and he became homeless and returned to active alcoholism and is still trying to make his way back into the system. But, he will not be allowed to utilize the Hospitality House or any supportive housing under Anna’s direction. Anna’s tendency to use favoritism will inevitably emerge in cases of discrimination against the Hospitality House, the Centers and perhaps the County.

I understand that Anna has great gifts in organization and grant writing that do serve the community at a great level. However, she is not a “people person.” She has been described as cold and indifferent! She has no known training in social work or clinical psychology in these settings. At times she completely lacks professionalism and insight as to the consequences of her decisions upon certain people and the dire consequences of her actions on the people and her community.

There are also huge holes in Tom Pinizzotto’s seamless system of care! Between Ortner (OMG), Redwood Children’s Services (RMS), Manzanita, the Hospitality Center and the Wellness Center, the crisis follow-up is basically non-existent; whereas, the County once had a “one-stop shop” for psychotic patients nearing hospitalization.

Sincerely and with Best Regards, Name Withheld

PS. A FEW THINGS HAVE CHANGED since the above was written. Redwood Children’s Services has been fired by the Ornter Management Group to do the adult mental health crisis. RCS will still be doing children's crisis but I believe Ortner is directly taking control of adult crisis. Another thing we clinicians have noticed is that the public cannot get hold of any mental health services at the provided phone numbers to get regular mental health case management. Also clients who have subsidized housing who Ortner is suppose to be managing cannot get hold of anyone about maintaining their housing and many people are “freaking out” they may lose their housing. Try calling the mental health numbers that have been switched over to Ortner and see what the public is facing.

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