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Ventura County

Gudeman Must Go, Consultant Says

April 19, 2002|CATHERINE SAILLANT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Embattled mental health director David Gudeman should be replaced as part of a broader plan to alleviate chronic problems in Ventura County's Behavioral Health Department, according to a consultant's report released Thursday.

"Given the pervasive dissatisfaction and lack of trust of the current Behavioral Health administration ... it seems unlikely that positive changes could be implemented and sustained without a change in leadership," Dallas psychologist Melissa Cahill wrote in her report.

Concerned that troubled juveniles were not receiving needed mental health services, Superior Court Judge John Dobroth earlier this year asked Cahill to investigate the cause. Cahill is chief psychologist for the Dallas County corrections department in Texas.

After interviewing dozens of administrators, clinical staff and others in the Ventura County's probation and mental health departments, Cahill concluded that Behavioral Health officials put up unnecessary roadblocks for youths seeking treatment.

Cahill also found that collaboration among county departments has broken down because of distrust and that many Behavioral Health employees are afraid to speak out for fear of retribution.

"Several individuals would only disclose information after significant questioning, while others would only do so when assured anonymity," she wrote in the eight-page report.

The assessment comes as the Board of Supervisors awaits recommendations on Gudeman's future.

Last week, the board unanimously directed County Executive Officer Johnny Johnston to review Gudeman's three-year tenure as leader of the $50-million, 450-employee department.

Johnston is expected to offer his recommendations to supervisors Tuesday behind closed doors. In recent days, Johnston has been critical of Gudeman's performance.

He could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Board Chairman John Flynn declined to comment on Cahill's report, saying he would wait to hear Johnston's recommendation. But Supervisor Frank Schillo, a Gudeman ally, criticized it as a "hatchet job."

Cahill received her training in Texas and is not familiar with California's mental health system, Schillo said. That makes her conclusions suspect, the Thousand Oaks supervisor said. He also questioned why Dobroth ordered the report in the first place.

"The bench is way out of line here," Schillo said. "It's not their problem to solve. And we already told them we're going to solve the problem."

Gudeman said the report is a biased document by "someone from out of state who is relatively junior in her career." Cahill earned a doctoral degree in clinical psychology from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in 1996.

He disputed Cahill's contention that his employees are afraid to speak out. All workers are aware of a hotline number they can call to reach the federal inspector general's office in Washington if they have a problem, Gudeman said.

The line was activated following a 1998 federal investigation into inappropriate Medicare billings in the mental health division. Gudeman said one of Cahill's recommendations, to designate a clinician in the Probation Agency as the liaison for mental health services, is one he made two years ago.

"It takes two to tango," Gudeman said. "You actually have to have someone in probation with policy authority to integrate the services. And it should be a doctor because a lot of services involve medication."

Dobroth had threatened earlier this month to order the county to provide services after Gudeman initially balked at providing psychiatric treatment for a teenager sentenced to a Camarillo work program. The order was averted, however, when Gudeman and Probation Agency chief Cal Remington worked out an agreement to treat the youth.

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