PLYMOUTH — A local mental health facility is under the microscope following a string of protests from past employees.
March 14, a group of former employees picketed near Michiana Behavioral Health located on Oak Road in Plymouth. These individuals held signs claiming that the facility is understaffed, causing an unsafe work environment.
The self-proclaimed “whistle blower” among the protesting group, Dominique Smith, told a Pilot News reporter that she had witnessed incidents of sexual misconduct and physical abuse at the facility when she was working there between November 2010 and April 2012. On a seemingly separate matter, Smith, who said she resigned from her position at MBH, believes that she was discriminated against while she worked at the facility and her health issues were ignored by administration. She also said she was targeted for mistreatment by her supervisors.
The Pilot News received a packet containing 13 letters written by people claiming to be former employees of MBH, and one person stating that they are a former patient of the facility. Six of the letters were signed, and seven were anonymous. Several appear to be multiple letters written by the same person. The letters allege of staffing issues leading to sexual misconduct among patients and physical altercations. One, written by a Sarah Popi, states that Smith was unfairly targeted for having acrylic nails that were longer than the facility’s policy allows.
Popi writes, “I can attest to the fact that management targets certain staff for various reasons of their choosing. I was fired for carrying my cell phone on me while other staff members were caught doing the same…”
An employment investigator with the Indiana Civil Rights Commission, Brad Shockney, spoke with the Pilot News this week about an investigation he is conducting as a result of a former MBH employee’s complaints of discrimination because of a disability.
“I am not acting on the complainant’s behalf, my job is to be a neutral investigator who looks at evidence from both sides,” said Shockney.
Shockney said that the Michiana Behavioral Health case was assigned to him in February. He has received a position statement as well as what he calls “a stack of documents” from the facility.
“(My complainant) is a lady who had worked at (Michiana Behavioral Health) as a registered nurse,” explained Shockney. “She has filed for discrimination on the basis of disability. She didn’t have documentation pertaining to her discrimination (claims). Michiana Behavioral Health is claiming through their attorney that (the complainant) was terminated for gross misconduct and they had no inkling that she had a disability.”
Shockney said he has also heard the reports of alleged understaffing in the facility. The focus of his investigation, however, is the claims of disability discrimination filed by the former employee. Shockney said there’s been no decision on the case yet, and explained how the investigation process works.
“Once I have obtained the evidence I need in this case, I will submit (the evidence) to my supervisor,” said Shockney. “Then it goes to Deputy Director of the Commission, then it is in administrative review. When the Deputy Director makes her decision, she can make it one of two ways. Either there is no probable cause, then the investigation is ended and case is closed. That doesn’t mean that we agree that (the facility) doesn’t engage in questionable practices, just that there isn’t enough evidence. Probable cause is the other option. Then the case will be assigned to an attorney and they will try to mediate the case. If that fails the case will eventually go to trial.”
March 20, a group of officials representing the Department of Child Services visited Michiana Behavioral Health to review whether the facility is meeting licensing requirements.
Stephanie McFarland of the Department of Child Services emphasized that the purpose of the visit was not to investigate the facility.
“Our folks are not investigators, they are case managers,” said McFarland. “We have been out to visit the facility…it was to review licensing requirements set by state statute.”
McFarland said that the results of this visit are considered confidential until the review is complete. The results will become public record after they are reviewed internally. McFarland said this process could take two weeks.
A confidential source who is a current employee of Michiana Behavioral Health recently came forward to say that those protesting MBH are just disgruntled former employees and aren’t really concerned about the care patients are receiving.
This person stated that they have worked at MBH for more than 10 years.
“I personally know every one of the ex-employees who stand out there every Tuesday and Thursday protesting our hospital,” wrote the employee in an email to the Pilot News. “Not one of those people left our facility because they were upset with the care that is being given to our patients who we proudly provide care for. The fact of the matter is that most of them were fired and/or left because they were dealing with disciplinary actions that they no longer wanted to be responsible for.”
The individual continued, saying that they do not want to make anyone look bad and are just interested in exposing “facts that I have firsthand knowledge of and that should help to paint a picture of the types of people who are spreading false information regarding our hospital.”
Administration at Michiana Behavioral Health has addressed the situation by issuing two statements.
Bryan Lett, CEO of the facility, said in a statement that MBH meets all staffing ratios necessary and appropriate to ensure patient safety and maintain regulatory compliance. He also said that no patient served at MBH has been charged for violent offenses, and there has never been a rape or criminal activity at the facility.
Over the past year, the facility has had 17 full-time employees and six part-time employees leave, mostly to relocate to another area or seek alternative employment opportunities according to the statement.
“This is not unusual turnover rate for an employer our size,” said Lett in a statement.