Klamath Basin Behavioral Health accused of illegal conduct in lawsuit

Klamath Falls Herald and News – October 2016

Two former therapists for Klamath Basin Behavioral Health claim they were fired last year after blowing the whistle on illegal mental health hold practices and have sued their former employer.

William Dowling and Ashley Meilahn filed separate suits Oct. 7 in Klamath County Circuit Court against KBBH CEO Stan Gilbert and Klamath Child and Family Treatment Center alleging discrimination and wrongful termination.

Plaintiffs are seeking more than $230,000 each and are represented by Medford-based attorney Andrew Wilson. According to court records, the defendants have yet to be served with notice of the suit as of Wednesday.

The lawsuits said Dowling and Meilahn were hired in 2013 and 2014, respectively, and served as therapists on KBBH’s Crisis Service Team. KBBH’s website said the crisis team is available 24/7 to respond to emergencies including an urgent need to speak with a counselor and those who may feel suicidal.

Legal criteria

On March 24, 2015, Dowling said he refused to place a patient on a mental health hold because he believed the patient did not fit the legal criteria to be held, though Dowling did not specify which aspect of the law he believed the hold violated.

Under Oregon law, a patient can be held for up to 12 hours to be transported to a mental health treatment facility if they are believed to be a danger to themselves or others and if a licensed practitioner at the receiving facility consents to transport. The practitioner placing the hold must also be licensed and may not be related by blood or marriage to the patient.

Dowling said such alleged violations occurred with several patients and, when he brought his concerns to Gilbert in April of 2015, Dowling said he was told to comply with KBBH policy or he would be fired.

Meilahn said she had a similar interaction with Gilbert when she expressed concerns about their policy on mental health holds and was told, “We do things differently and you guys need to figure things out and get on board here,” according to her lawsuit. She said plaintiffs were also threatened with termination if their concerns were reported to state authorities.

Contacts made

On April 15, 2015, plaintiffs contacted the Oregon Health Authority to report potential illegal practices by KBBH, though the suits did not describe any reactions or investigations resulting from the report. The health authority did not respond to requests by Herald and News for information regarding the plaintiff’s complaint.

On May 1, 2015, Dowling contacted the Oregon Board of Licensed Professional Counselors and Therapists to report his concerns, though any response from the board was also not detailed in his suit. Board investigator Rogelio Daniels said his agency was unable to comment on confidential investigation information.

On May 11, 2015, Dowling and Meilahn were terminated from their employment and claim this was the result of refusing to engage in illegal mental health holds and for reporting their concerns.

Dowling is seeking $87,581.44 while Meilahn is seeking $84,570.03 in economic damages. Both have also demanded $150,000 in non-economic damages as well as attorney’s fees.

Prior to filing suit, plaintiffs filed claims with the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries and received right to sue letters in July, which are issued following the conclusion of an investigation by the bureau and indicate whether or not a violation has been identified. The lawsuits did not detail the content of the letters and a bureau representative did not return a request from H&N for information regarding their investigation.

Gilbert was also unavailable for comment Wednesday.

KBBH is a private, nonprofit corporation providing mental health services to adults, teens, children and families throughout the region. Since July 22, 2013, KBBH has been the local health authority for Klamath County, providing court-mandated mental health treatment through a contract with the county.