Saturday, June 18, 2016
[Humboldt County] Grand Jury: Behavioral Health Board Responsible for Identifying Problems in County’s ‘Dysfunctional’ Mental Health Branch
The Mental Health Branch of the Humboldt County Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) has had a challenging year or two, as partially documented in the stories linked above. Doctors and nurses started leaving en masse early last year, and employees said gross mismanagement, chronic understaffing and low morale had created an unpleasant and even dangerous environment.
To address the crisis, DHHS hired an outside staffing firm to fill vacancies and vowed to work on improving communication and employee morale. But employees remained dissatisfied, and at least one told the Outpost that she’d filed a grievance with the Grand Jury.
This past November the Humboldt-Del Norte Medical Society sent a letter to the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors in which they, too, argued that the situation deserved to be investigated by the Grand Jury. Not surprisingly, the Grand Jury did just that, and today that body released a report on the matter.
Noting “several complaints” about such things as “unresponsive upper management,” “dysfunctional work guidelines” and “an unsupportive work environment,” Grand Jury Foreperson John Heckel said in a press release that while there’s plenty of blame to be spread around, the nightmare at the Mental Health Branch ultimately falls at the feet of the Humboldt County Behavioral Health Board (formerly known as the Mental Health Advisory Board).
This citizen oversight group, established locally in 1970, is charged with reviewing and evaluating the county’s mental health services and advising both the mental health director and the Board of Supervisors on any problems. The board “failed to exercise this important role,” the Grand Jury report concludes, noting that “the Grand Jury could find no evidence that mandated annual reports had been filed for several years with the Board of Supervisors.”
The Grand Jury also lays some blame at the feet of the Board of Supervisors, saying in its findings that the supes have provided “little or no direction, specific goals, or training to the Humboldt County Behavioral Health Board.” In fact, the report notes, there’s “little evidence of communication” between the two boards.
A spokesperson for DHHS said that, with the report having been released just today, the head of the Behavioral Health Board hadn’t had a chance to read the report and thus could not immediately comment.
Here’s the press release from the Grand Jury:
The 2015-2016 Humboldt County Civil Grand Jury (HCCGJ) received several complaints regarding the Mental Health Branch of the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). Those complaints conveyed dysfunctional work guidelines, distrustful working relationships, unresponsive upper management, mass resignations, and an unsupportive work environment. The complaints reflected the concerns of a broad base of community mental health advocates and Mental Health Branch staff. The number of complaints and the wide spectrum of those filing complaints instigated this HCCGJ investigation.
While many Humboldt County department heads and elected officials could have been more proactive in identifying problems within the Mental Health Branch of DHHS, this role is specifically assigned to the Humboldt County Behavioral Health Board by the Bronzan-McCorquodale Act of 1991. The HCCGJ finds that the BHB failed to exercise this important role.
A review of the BHB actions revealed few recommendations, fewer comments on policies, little advice to governing bodies, and seldom reviewed or evaluated community mental health needs. The Minutes from the board’s meetings reveal the BHB’s time was primarily spent listening to reports from the DHHS and Mental Health Branch employees. The Humboldt County Civil Grand Jury could find no evidence that mandated annual reports had been filed for several years with the Board of Supervisors.
The Humboldt County Civil Grand Jury recommends that the BHB submit its past due annual reports to the BOS and thereafter submit, in a timely manner, its required written annual report. The Humboldt County Civil Grand Jury recommends that the Humboldt County Behavioral Health Board undergo training to fully understand its duties and roles, and to proceed proactively to carry out the legal requirements of the Bronzan-McCorquodale Act.
June 17, 2016
Lost Coast Outpost
By Ryan Burns