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Adventures In The Mental Health Industry, Part Four

February 14, 2011

“Ooooh, it’s so important that we cultivate and maintain our relationships with other community organizations,”  Vivian said. 

A Licensed Clinical Social Worker, or LCSW, she was my new supervisor at the local community  mental health center. I was a sort of middle-manager, hired to do outpatient psychotherapy half-time.  My  other 20 hours a week were devoted to administrative and clinical supervision,  program and budget management, and  such other administrative, managerial, and supervisorial duties as assigned.  I was the Program Manager for  the second-largest of the six  rural counties this 75-person  agency served.

My previous supervisor had told me “you are the least of my problems” and assured me that if she didn’t spend a lot of time with me it was because she felt she didnt’ need to, since she had confidence in my skills and my judgment.  Now the latest unexplained shake-up among the higher-ups had resulted in Vivian taking over as  my immediate supervisor.  I had observed that Vivian seemed to have a pattern of saying, “Whew! I’m so busy! I’m so  overwhelmed with work,” while not seeming to produce any tangible result for her reported exhaustive efforts.

Vivian was quite subtle at suggesting, without actually saying, that I wasn’t doing enough to maintain active, cooperative  relationships with other community agencies in Delta County. She hinted  I wasn’t taking enough of a leadership role in the community, wasn’t sufficiently   “high-profile” as the representative of the mental health center  in Delta County.  Genuinely baffled by this insinuation, I naively  recounted my ongoing involvement with a variety of community organizations: I was an active participant in the weekly Child Protective Services Meetings, in which we reviewed the facts and Social Services’ response to each case of alleged child abuse or child neglect.  The local hospital was directly across the street fromour offices, and I was on a first-name basis with the full-time Emergency Room  physician and with many of the  ER staff.  I attended  & actively participated in each staffing held by Juvenile Probation and Juvenile Diversion. I was active in the monthly multi-agency meetings the school district held. I frequently  visited the county jail in response to calls from the jail staff about agitated and/or suicidal prisoners. I was on a first-name basis with the County Sheriff and with his wife, who occasionally worked for us in a clerical capacity. I supervised the mental health outreach program to Spanish-speaking migrant agricultural  workers and their families.  I routinely screened & assessed  new admissions to the local  residential facility for troubled adolescents and networked with the Domestic Violence Prevention program.  I was also on the board of directors for the family service program in a neighboring small town. I worked cooperatively with the County Housing Authority.  I had just made a presentation and a successful plea for continued funding at the most recent  City Council meeting, and been praised for my succinct but fact-laden presentation.  What else should I be doing?

Vivian sidestepped that question, literally wringing her hands and repeating that is was  “absolutely vital” we keep good relations with other publicly funded community agencies. We need to be energetic leaders, activists in the community, constantly networking with other agencies. We couldn’t let those relationships wither on the vine. We needed to be more energetic, more participatory, more active.

About a week later, she announced she would be taking over those duties from me. “You just worry about what goes on inside this building.” She went on about how she would have to work hard to “rebuild” relationships with various community organizations, which was so vital to  our organization’s mission. Nothing in the world was more important than taking an active leadership role in the network of community service organizations in Delta County. She would have to tirelessly devote herself to rebuilding and restoring these essential relationships.

I noticed that she had never answered my questions: “What do you feel I’m overlooking?   What should I be  doing that I’m not already doing?” Those questions had always resulted in her  not hearing me or quickly changing the subject. I never dig get an answer to those seemingly simple questions.

But she was The Boss, so at her direction, I went around to all these meetings and told them, “After the first of next month, I will no longer be the mental health center representative at these meetings. Vivian______ will be. Some of you may remember Vivian from years past. ” At most of the meetings people were predictably professional/impersonal: “Sorry to see you go. Enjoyed working with you. Of course, we will cooperate with your replacement.” However, at Child Protective Services meeting, someone blurted out, “Vivian’s coming back?! That’s not good news.” and at the school meeting one of the participants erupted with, “Oh God! Not Vivian!”   Which seemed like evidence for my (albeit  self-serving ) belief that Vivian’s relationships with Delta County community organizations were certainly no better than mine, and possibly much worse. I carefully prepared a detailed  list of all the agencies,  their contact infomration, and their meeting times and places for her use.

Some two or threee months later,  about 15 to 20 mental health center employees were laid off at once.  Some of them had worked for the mental health center for over 20 years.  Others, seeing the pattern, resigned (“rats deserting a sinking ship”).  Programs were cancelled. This was during 2003,  long before the Great Recession that started five years later. The rest of us, those who survived the cut,  were frequently and pointedly  reminded we were “at will” employees who could  and would be discharged at any minute, with no reason, no recourse, and no notice.  You can imagine the effect on morale.  Those of us who were Master’s-level clinicians had been making about two-thirds of what  local  public school teachers with comparable degrees, licensure,  and years of experience were making. (as  I  learned from examining a school district salary schedule). Of course, we didn’t have summers off,  worked  49 or 50 weeks a year,  had to pay out-of-pocket for any continuing education or training, didn’t participate in PERA, the public employees retirement plan, and had no protection of any kind  against arbitrary firing,  unfair disciplinary action, or demotion. I was not laid off, but my Delta County job was abolished, and I was assigned to full-time outpatient therapy in the Montrose office, 25 miles away. This meant a pay cut of almost 25% and an additional commute of 1,000 extra driving miles per month, with no compensation. Still, I liked doing therapy full-time and being free of conflicted priorities that being a manager-supervisor- bureaucrat sometimes imposed on me. And Vivian would no longer be my supervisor.  That, at least, was some good news.

Six months had passed since Vivian took over the community liason role when I got a rash of phone calls one day from various  Delta County agencies.

“Ah ha, we finally found you! Listen, didn’t you tell us that someone else would take over when you stopped attending our meetings?”

“Yes, Vivian________,” I replied.

“Well, where is she? No one from the  mental health  center has ever attended any of our staffings since you left!”

“Good heavens! I didn’t know that.”

“And we have called and called the Delta office. We’re always told someone would call us back but no one ever did. Not one of our phone calls in six months has been  returned!”

“I’m very sorry, ” I said. “I had no idea…”

“Finally we asked to talk to you and they told us they didn’t know where you were or how to reach you!:”

“That’s ridiculous. Everyone in the Delta office knows I was transferred to the Montrose office.”

“Well, that’s what I thought. But they said they didn’t have the phone number for the Montrose office and hung up on us.”

“That’s the main office for the entire center. It’s been the same number at least since 1982.  Everyone knows it.”

“Whoever answered the phone told us they didn’t know it. Had no idea.  Couldn’t find it.”

“I’m sorry to hear this. Look, let me make a couple of phone calls and then I’ll get back to you as soon as possible.”

I called three or four other Delta County agencies and heard the exact same stories and the exact same three complaints: no one had contacted them or attended any meetings since I  stopped doing so six months earlier;  not one of their  phone calls–none–  had ever been returned; the person answering the phones at the Delta Mental Health Center office pretended not to know where I was now working and said they didn’t know the number for the main office of the mental health center. (I guess that’s a total of  four complaints instead of three).

Then I called Vivian: “Hi, Vivian.  I’m getting a lot complaints just now from community agencies in Delta County. They say neither you nor anyone else has attended any of their meetings or been in any contact with them for the last six months…..”

“Oh, I know!, ” Vivian said breezily. “I’ve been so busy!” She sighed audibly and then said cavalierly, “I just haven’t had time to even think about Delta County the last six months! Maybe I’ll find time to attend one of those meetings next month…..or maybe the month after.  I dunno. Whatever! Anyway, gotta go!  Thanks, bye!”  [click].

























One Comment leave one →
  1. Aureliano Buendia permalink
    February 18, 2011 11:26 AM

    Lastima que su no podia sacar photos del asunto! Hoy en dia pudiera ponerlos en “You Tube”. Un recuedo inolvidable dl su dias in Colombia. Buen viajes siempre!


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