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Ventura County

Legal Battle Averted; Teen to Be Treated

Court: Behavioral health and probation agencies tell a judge they've worked out a plan to ensure juvenile offenders get needed counseling.

April 09, 2002|CATHERINE SAILLANT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Ventura County officials averted a legal showdown Monday by agreeing to provide psychiatric treatment for a teenager who had previously been denied help.

The youth, sentenced to a Camarillo work program, will receive counseling under an agreement reached by Probation Agency chief Cal Remington and Behavioral Health Director David Gudeman.

Remington and Gudeman presented the written contract to Superior Court Judge John Dobroth during a closed-door meeting in the judge's chambers.

Dobroth had threatened to order the county to treat the teenager after county lawyers argued that the Behavioral Health Department was not contractually obligated to do so. Dobroth on Monday agreed to allow two weeks for the county to follow through on providing treatment for the minor and other juvenile offenders.

County Executive Officer Johnny Johnston, who also attended the closed session, said he assured Dobroth that the county's Behavioral Health Department will be restructured to avoid another delay in services.

"I'll be going to the Board of Supervisors on [April 16] with recommendations," Johnston said outside the courtroom. "Hopefully, we can settle some long-standing disagreements and get this resolved."

In brief comments when he returned to the bench, Dobroth said he was willing to wait a little longer to see what improvements the county will make. But the judge was skeptical.

"That may be possible," he said. "But government is a little slow at times."

The youth, a minor who had been sentenced by Dobroth to a work program at Camarillo Airport, will be seen by UCLA psychiatry professor Murray Brown, Gudeman said outside court.

Under the agreement with Remington, other juvenile offenders who need treatment will be driven from Camarillo to Ventura, where the county psychiatrists are, Gudeman said.

Top county officials said that Monday's hearing was the first hurdle in resolving disagreements between the behavioral health and probation departments. Remington said he has had trouble getting mental health services for the youths his officers supervise.

The problem began about two years ago, after Gudeman was appointed as head of the Behavioral Health Department, Remington said. Gudeman said he is doing the best he can with a tight budget.

Johnston has said he will recommend that Behavioral Health be removed from the larger Health Care Agency. It would give Johnston greater control over Behavioral Health's budget and make him Gudeman's direct supervisor.

Gudeman's current boss, Health Care Agency Director Pierre Durand, did not return calls for comment.

Gudeman said he first learned about the planned move from news accounts. He is not against the proposal, he said, but is concerned it be done properly.

A previous attempt to merge the mental health division with the social services agency indirectly resulted in a federal Medicare billing investigation, Gudeman noted. The county was ordered to pay $15.3 million in penalties.

A well-studied approach that includes consultation with county psychiatrists and the Mental Health Advisory Board should be taken before any action is approved, said Gudeman, a UCLA-trained psychiatrist.

Remington said he is prepared to do what's necessary to get services to youths on probation.

"The bottom line is we need to work together," Remington said. "If we have to go to court every time Behavioral Health has a problem with the fine print in a contract, it's not going to work."

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