Multnomah County placed entire mental health court staff on leave following internal investigation

Multnomah County placed entire mental health court staff on leave following internal investigation
Oregonian, April 17, 2020

Multnomah County placed its entire team of mental health court monitors on paid administrative leave, and the four employees later all resigned following investigations of misconduct, county documents show.

Three of the employees worked as case managers for the mental health court program, and one served as a mental health consultant. The county opened an investigation into the four employees in late 2019.

The mental health court is one of Multnomah County’s four specialized treatment courts that function like diversion programs for defendants with certain underlying issues — other specialty courts address drug abuse or alcoholism issues. Those who work as court monitors are tasked with helping clients follow through with the court’s recommendations and connecting them with community services.

The court focuses on defendants with severe and persistent mental illness, and defendants who may have been diagnosed with conditions like schizophrenia, major depressive disorder or bipolar disorder, said Ebony Clarke, the director for the Multnomah County Mental Health and Addiction Services division. Case managers typically handle between 15 and 20 cases, she said.

Allegations against the four employees span more than a year and vary in nature. The county investigated complaints that the employees were not meeting with clients face-to-face as often as they were supposed to and failed in several ways to support their clients. One employee allegedly used time that she was supposed to be meeting with county clients to operate her own business. Another reportedly made repeated racist comments to a coworker, and other colleagues said he may have been unfair in his decisions about who could enter the mental health court program. The third employee allegedly failed to meet with at least one client for more than a year, and the fourth was accused of failing to connect clients to meal vouchers and medications that they needed.

The county determined through its investigation that the complaints against the four employees were valid, and three of the employees received a letter of proposed dismissal. The fourth received a written reprimand. The workers resigned in lieu of being terminated earlier this year.

“This is one of the most vulnerable populations,” Clarke said. “When this happened, I was significantly concerned, appalled and had to take immediate action.”

Now, Clarke said, two people have been hired as permanent case managers for the mental health court, and two more are in the process of being hired.

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.

“The county has spent nearly two years uncovering personnel and systemic issues in this division,” said Kafoury in a statement to The Oregonian/OregonLive. “This makes clear that the issues are not limited to just one area and that our work is not done.”

While Kafoury did not specify what the broader investigation had uncovered in the mental health division, she noted that it was not the first time there had been an internal investigation into a county division. In 2019, the county opened an internal investigation into Adult Protective Services. County operating officer Marissa Madrigal ordered an investigation into complaints that county officials had failed to follow up on several reports of abuse or neglect at the Unity Center for Behavioral Health. The Multnomah County District Attorney’s office did not find reason to press criminal charges against any county employees.

Kafoury acknowledged the harm that may have been done to clients of the mental health court program, and apologized to anyone who had sought mental health services from the county.