How many Klamath County Mental Health clients are left caught under the wheel?

By Teresa Rennick, Guest writer
From the Klamath Falls Herald and News, October 28, 2012

Teresa Rennick taught at Oregon Institute of Technology and at the Oregon Health & Science University at OIT in the Nursing Department for 25 years. She worked at Klamath County Mental Health as a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner for more than 14 years. She resigned in December 2011. She is currently retired.

I’m no longer at Klamath County Mental Health. Or to quote the new director, Amanda Bunger, in the Sept. 11 Herald and News article, I’m one of those who “got off the bus.”

The reporter was told there were four of us, but in fact there have been more than 20 staff members who’ve resigned, or retired, in the last year and a half. Name changes and altered mission statements don’t change facts. Under this new administration, misinformation has been rampant, staff have been mistreated and the care of clients has been compromised. Some good investigative reporting would be welcome here.

“Unqualified persons writing care plans?” Ironically, these were case managers with bachelor’s degrees and many years of experience who are titled “Qualified Mental Health Associates.”

The state rules changed and master’s prepared staff were required to write the plans. But, check the dates and you’ll find that the changes were made and compliance was in place long before the new director climbed into the driver’s seat.

“Open door policy?” The first person to resign (I think of her as the canary in the coal mine) did so because of a decidedly closed door policy.

No indigent clients? Nobody on Medicare? Telling patients to leave when they had nowhere else to go? These abandonment policies were egregious, and many of us found them unacceptable, both legally and ethically.

“Nineteen mentally ill people working full-time in the community?” Is that true? What about the 13 people with severe and persistent mental illness who lost their janitorial jobs because of this new administration? Was there any financial benefit in hiring a janitorial service to clean our building when the client janitors were doing an excellent job? How do you quantify the loss of self-worth and dignity that came with termination of their employment?

What’s it like to work in a setting where the tone is: “You’re on the bus or off the bus?”

How do you make suggestions? Are you afraid to speak up for fear of reprimand? Will you be targeted, harassed and written up? How many grievances have been filed by KCMH employees in the last year and a half? The commissioners and county human resources will have this information, although concerns and complaints have largely gone unheard or were ignored by them.

“Better money management?” What have the hospitalization rates been under this new administration? Keeping people out of the hospital, when we can, is in the client’s best interest, plus it saves the taxpayers at least $1,200 per client, per day. In our previous administration, under Ann Lynn, our hospitalization days per month were so low that we were often a model in the state.

What’s the comparison between average hospitalization days per month under the old and the new system? Is the new system really saving money?

Under the direction of Ann Lynn, KCMH was productive and well run.

Our motto was “Practice Kindness,” a concept that we took seriously when dealing with clients and co-workers alike. Other supervisors who initially stayed on after Ann retired were equally respected and we were devastated when these wise and kind colleagues were targeted, treated shabbily and finally had no recourse but to resign.

Ask how many years of experience have been lost by the many resignations. Talk to staff who’ve left and hear their stories.

The new director’s metaphor about staying on the bus or getting off the bus continues to puzzle me. Where are the clients in this scene? Are they on the bus? Are they outside trying to get someone’s attention? Is the driver even looking? If the driver has only one thing in mind, “efficiency and productivity,” at apparently all costs, how many people are left waiting by the roadside, or worse, caught under the wheels?

The clients and the remaining staff, who continue to strive to give good care in the present atmosphere, and the citizens of Klamath County deserve better.