Multnomah County to run Garlington Center

From The Oregonian, April 25, 1998

Multnomah County has taken over operation of a nonprofit mental health clinic overburdened by debt and unable to pay its employees.

Operations of the Garlington Center for Behavioral Mental Health Care, one of the primary mental health clinics in North and Northeast Portland, continued Friday under the county and a network of other nonprofit clinics.

County, state and clinic officials said the primary goal was to maintain services to clients, largely lower income people whose treatment is paid for with federal Medicaid money.

Meanwhile, Norm Wyers, Garlington board president, said Friday that the board had been told by the county that the state attorney general’s office is investigating the clinic for possible Medicaid fraud. “If there is,” Wyers said, “it is certainly something we (the board) know nothing about.”

In the meantime, a long-range plan will be developed to cover clients and possibly Garlington employees also left in a bind by the fiscal failure of the clinic, which has been in operational and financial difficulties for some months.

A clinic coalition called Advanced Behavioral Health, working on a contract with the county, is administering Garlington operations. Clients will be treated by the Center for Community Mental Health and the Delaunay Family of Services, which also operate in North or Northeast Portland. The actual services are being provided at Garlington sites.

The clinic has about 500 adult clients and another 200 child clients. It has about 95 employees and an annual budget of about $4 million.

Lolenzo Poe Jr., director of the county’s Department of Community and Family Services, said the county and the state notified the Garlington board of directors and administrators Thursday that, effective Friday, the contract between Garlington and the county was dissolved.

The takeover by the county was the latest event in a disruptive financial and operational situation at Garlington.

Early this month, the county and the state put up a total of $108,000 to cover the center’s payroll for April.

Madeline Olson, assistant administrator of the state Mental Health and Developmental Disability Services Division, said that state and county officials “jointly agreed we could not continue making their payroll for them. We agreed together that the critical thing is services for the community.”

Under an agreement between the county and Garlington, remaining employees will continue at least through May 22 under the combined county-clinic coalition operation.

The Garlington board will meet Monday night to decide its next step. Wyers declined to say how much debt Garlington had accrued. “We’re still trying to sort that out,” he said. Previous to the takeover, he said, the county had asked the board to prepare, but not file, bankruptcy papers.

Wyers also said that Phyllis Paulson, the chief executive officer, and David Baker, chief financial officer, had resigned.

Problems at Garlington became public in February, when Paulson fired Dr. Nicholas Drakos, a psychiatrist and medical director who had been at the clinic nine years. The next day, 14 other high-level employees announced their resignations. They complained about Paulson’s management style. They also thought the clinic was in serious financial trouble but could not get responses to their concerns from Paulson or from the board, the employees said.

Drakos and John Bigelow, the former program director for community support services who resigned in February, said they felt vindicated by Paulson’s departure and evidence of the financial failure they had foreseen.

However, Drakos said, he meets former clients who “plead with me” for help. In addition, he said, “a lot of really good, competent professionals are no longer there.”