New hospital chief known for making positive changes

From the Salem Statesman Journal, August 9, 2010

In his spare time, Greg Roberts works on stained-glass projects and follows baseball.

“I love baseball. I’m on a lifelong mission to see a baseball game in every Major League ballpark,” he said. “I think I have about 20 of the 30 covered.”

During his own professional career, Roberts, 59, often has played a role resembling that of a reliable relief pitcher, called into the game during pressure-packed jams.

The New Jersey mental hospital administrator has stepped in repeatedly to stabilize embattled psychiatric facilities.

His crisis-tested experience helps explain why Oregon officials selected Roberts to take the reins of the state’s much-criticized psychiatric facility. He will start his job as chief of the Oregon State Hospital on Sept. 20.

“I went into this (superintendent search) thinking nobody could do this job, but I feel very good about Gregory Roberts,” said state Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem. “He’s done this kind of work before … He’s been placed in impossible situations back in New Jersey time and again.”

Courtney, who served on the search committee that helped pick three finalists for the OSH leadership job, said background checks in New Jersey turned up strong support for Roberts and his ability to spur positive changes at troubled facilities.

“Everybody said the same thing: This is what he does, and he does it well,” Courtney said. “He doesn’t try to be showy about it. He doesn’t try to brag about it. This is his love, and this is what he has been able to accomplish.”

Another participant in the superintendent interview process, Robert Joondeph, executive director of Disability Rights Oregon, described Roberts as “the best of three very qualified candidates.”

The two other finalists for the superintendent job were Ron Adler, CEO of Alaska Psychiatric Institute, and John Cooper, CEO of Arizona State Hospital.

Joondeph said Roberts combines “a very friendly style” with valuable experience.

“My impression was that he’s got the experience to give him some authority and yet he doesn’t come across as an authoritarian type of person,” he said. “He comes across as a listener and someone who can bring a lot of experience to the table.”

Those traits are important, Joondeph said, because Roberts needs lots of help to change OSH.

“I don’t think it’s doable by one person, but it’s very important when you have a big job like this to have what I would call respected leadership that has the support of folks like the governor and the Legislature and the Department of Human Services,” Joondeph said.

Roberts will be the sixth person to serve as OSH superintendent since Stan Mazur-Hart stepped down in 2004.

There are no guarantees that Roberts will succeed, Joondeph said.

“Not only is the job hard, but we’re also facing very significant budget cuts,” he said. “The hospital’s also still under the scrutiny of the U.S. Department of Justice. You also have a new hospital being built and they’ve just taken on a whole bunch of new people to deal with the mandatory overtime problem. So I don’t think there are any guarantees of success in that environment.

“There’s at least some comfort in knowing they picked a candidate who is very experienced and has a demonstrated track record in helping turn around troubled institutions.”

EXTRA – Oregon State Hospital has been led by six superintendents during this decade: Stan Mazur-Hart, 1991-2004, David Freed, interim, Marvin Fickle, 2004-07, Maynard Hammer, interim, Roy Orr, 2008-April, Nena Strickland, current interim.
READ – Resume for Greg Roberts
READ – New Oregon State Hospital leader is eager to take over, Salem Statesman Journal, August 9, 2010