Using the media to bring attention
It’s not unusual for me to get emails with attached documentation from victims/targets suffering abusive work environments. Sometimes they hold up and sometimes the evidence suggests the real bully is the one reaching out to me – angry that they can’t dictate what management should be doing. No doubt mainstream journalists have had access to these stories for years and ethical concerns about printing subjective information that can destroy careers and businesses kill story after story. But, as bullying has become a popular topic among readers it’s now far more common to see allegations of abuse hit the headlines. The latest example out of Minnesota is featured in today’s Star Tribune:
St. Peter psychiatric hospital is in turmoil
Six psychiatrists who treat more than 375 patients at the Minnesota Security Hospital in St. Peter have resigned in recent months, protesting the combative style of the facility’s new administrator and leaving almost no experienced psychiatric staff at the state’s only hospital for mentally ill and dangerous patients.
The departures are the latest hit to a hospital battered by years of management turmoil, and a new obstacle to Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson’s plans to reform care for the state’s most dangerous patients.
Jesson has ordered an investigation into whether the new administrator, David Proffitt — four months on the job — has created a hostile workplace. She hired a Minneapolis law firm to investigate complaints brought by the now-departed forensics medical director and nurses who say that Proffitt made inappropriate sexual remarks during a lecture.
In addition to the six psychiatrists who’ve resigned since October, one has been fired and one is on medical leave. They’ve been replaced temporarily by department psychiatrists who are not familiar with the patients.
Departing psychiatrists spoke on condition they not be identified for fear of licensing action against them. They described a tense, angry workplace where they felt paralyzed because, they say, Proffitt repeatedly second-guessed their care decisions and threatened their jobs.
Jesson and her top executives now must quickly recruit and train a new psychiatric staff while transforming a workplace culture that department investigators described in 2010 as chaotic, dangerous and dysfunctional.
In December, the hospital was fined $2,200 — the most possible under state law — and its license placed on conditional probation for two years, in part because of serious maltreatment of two patients.
Jesson also directed Deputy Commissioner Anne Barry to spend at least one day a week at the hospital to work with Proffitt and monitor patient care and the use of physical restraints or seclusion. All incidents of suspected abuse will be reported immediately to Barry and Jesson before an investigation is complete.
“Putting the hospital on conditional license for two years is as serious a consequence as this agency has faced,” Barry said. “We face an enormous task.”
Proffitt said in an interview Friday that he was not aware that any of his actions might be considered hostile or inappropriate. “From my perspective, this work is complex and intense. [But] anything that’s alleged needs to get looked at.”
He said he could not comment on why the psychiatrists left. “We are required to change our practices and the vast majority of staff are enthusiastic in doing so,” he said. “Some [psychiatrists] may decide they don’t want to change, but that doesn’t diminish the respect I have for them.”
The departing psychiatrists include Dr. Jennifer Service, a Harvard-trained psychiatrist who served as the statewide forensics medical services director for eight years, and Dr. John Wermager, the hospital’s director of psychiatry. Service also was responsible for the care of more than 145 mentally ill and dangerous patients who live in communities on provisional discharge.
Another psychiatrist, Dr. Michael Harlow, was fired by Proffitt in December after Harlow placed in seclusion a male patient who’d reportedly gotten out of control and threatened the life of a female psychiatric nurse. The patient was forced to the floor and restrained in handcuffs while his clothing was cut from him with scissors because staff feared he had hidden a weapon, according to sources with direct knowledge of the incident.
Top department administrators said in interviews that they believe the resignations stemmed from staff fears that they, too, might be fired for making a wrong decision…. [Read the full article]