After investigation into wide-ranging misconduct, Multnomah County will review management of mental health division

After investigation into wide-ranging misconduct, Multnomah County will review management of mental health division
Oregonian, April 18, 2020

Months after Multnomah County opened an internal investigation into its entire staff of mental health court monitors, the four employees resigned, leaving county officials to rebuild a program that serves some of its most vulnerable residents.

This week, the county hired an outside investigator to review supervision in the mental health division, which includes the mental health court program, as well as several others. The county is Portland’s lead mental health care provider.

Reports from the investigation into each employee, obtained by The Oregonian/OregonLive through a public records request, show problems festered for several months. The reports concluded that employees misused county funds and time, did not meet with their clients as consistently as they were supposed to, and did not adequately support clients.

The county has since hired two new court monitors and is in the process of hiring two more, said Ebony Clarke, the director for the Multnomah County Mental Health and Addiction Services division.

But at least one employee who was dismissed disputed the allegations and questioned the process through which the county investigated the complaints.

The mental health court is one of Multnomah County’s four specialized treatment courts that function like diversion programs for defendants who have certain underlying issues, such as drug addictions. Employees who work as court monitors are tasked with helping clients follow through with the court’s recommendations and connecting them with community services, with the goal of reducing recidivism.

The mental health court serves defendants with severe and persistent mental illness, and defendants who may have been diagnosed with conditions like schizophrenia, major depressive disorder or bipolar disorder, Clarke said. Case managers typically handle between 15 and 20 cases, she said.

The allegations against each of the four employees cover a broad range of misconduct that appears to have little overlap. One case manager, Michelle Smith, was found to have been operating a recovery coaching business during hours when she was supposed to be meeting with county clients, according to the investigative report. The report concluded she did not properly document her visits with clients on the work calendar, and did not meet with clients as consistently as she should.

Another employee, mental health consultant Jason Robinson, was investigated after people reported that he repeatedly made racist comments toward a colleague. Other county employees also told investigators they felt he was unnecessarily selective when deciding whether to allow certain clients into the mental health courts program.

Robinson, unlike the other three employees, did not receive a proposed dismissal, but was instead issued a written reprimand and directed to attend several cultural competency trainings.

Case manager Kevin Bodin was accused of not giving a Safeway gift card to a client who told him that he was not eating for two days at the end of every month because his food stamps didn’t cover him. According to the investigative report, court monitors could distribute gift cards and shelter vouchers to clients as necessary. The report says Bodin said he didn’t give the client the gift card because he “would have spent it on cigarettes.” The report also said Bodin did not help a client get timely access to their medication.

The investigation concluded Bodin had repeatedly been discourteous to clients, and that his reason for withholding financial support for the client who needed food was inadequate.

The document also said Bodin and Robinson filmed a client having an interaction with someone the client had allegedly victimized. The report said that it’s unclear whether the client knew they were being recorded. According to the report, recording a client without their consent violates ethical standards for addictions counselors. The report shows that Bodin and Robinson told their supervisor, Bill Osborne, that they filmed the interaction out of concern for the victim. But in the report, Osborne said he felt they had done the filming with the intention of catching the victim doing something wrong.

Smith, Robinson and Bodin did not return requests for comment.

The fourth employee to resign, case manager Rahana Bear, was accused of not meeting with clients as frequently as she was supposed to. She also was investigated for falsifying documents and failing to account for funds and vouchers meant to be given to clients.

According to county documents, the investigation began when Bear went on maternity leave and another county employee, who was not a subject of the investigation, stepped in to pick up her caseload. That person discovered Bear had not been contacting her clients regularly, according to the investigation.

Osborne, who managed the team and other diversion court programs, asked human resources to start looking into Bear, and they soon discovered allegations against other employees. Investigators ultimately could not verify 29 dates in Bear’s calendar when she was supposed to be meeting with clients. The report also says Bear had seven missing shelter vouchers and gift cards.

But Bear told The Oregonian/OregonLive that she has documentation of those meetings with clients and tried to give those documents to county investigators. Bear said she eventually turned the documents she had collected over to her union representative after the investigation was over, and asked them to give the documents to the county.

“I would hope that they would see that I was not doing a disservice to my clients,” she said.

Bear said she was caught off guard when she learned about the investigation as she prepared to return from maternity leave. She said she could not account for all of the allegations, such as the missing shelter vouchers and gift cards, but she said she didn’t feel that warranted dismissal.

She said she sometimes gave people vouchers in court without documenting it, and had told the county she would have been happy to pay for the missing vouchers.

Bear said doesn’t believe she failed to meet frequently with clients. Some clients were about to graduate from the program, and she did not have frequent contact with them.

“I know that my coworkers and I did really hard work with the most vulnerable people in Multnomah County,” she said. “It takes a really special person to do that, and I feel like we were not supported.”

The wide range of alleged misconduct occurred under a single manager, Osborne, who was not subject to the investigation, county officials said. Osborne still works with the mental health courts program and is still being paid at the same rate.

Clarke said the county restructured the program after the investigation to make sure there were more “eyes on” the mental health courts staff.

Those changes included collaborating with other specialty court programs so that others could be familiar with the clients and cases coming through mental health court, holding weekly meetings and comparing weekly reports to calendars.

The county declined to make Osborne available for comment. Clarke said she felt Osborne, who came on as manager of the mental health courts program in 2018, responded to the misconduct allegations as she would expect a manager to.

“He acted on information, elevated the concern and stepped in to handle clients’ needs,” Clarke said. She said after the four employees were placed on leave, Osborne handled a caseload himself, and the county hired some temporary staff to work with clients.

In addition to the mental health court investigation, Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury assigned interim chief operating officer Peggy Brey to investigate the entire mental health division and identify the root causes of the division’s problems, mitigate the damage to clients and ensure that the same thing wouldn’t happen again.

Neal Rotman, the senior manager of the community mental health program, under which the mental health courts falls, was placed on paid administrative leave April 6. A letter to Rotman from the county said he was being investigated, but does not explain why.

County spokeswoman Julie Sullivan-Springhetti said on Friday that Kafoury had directed Brey to consult with the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office, in addition to hiring an outside consultant, to review supervision within the mental health division.