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Board Ousts Behavioral Health Chief

Government: In a closed session, supervisors' 4-0 vote ends months of criticism over David Gudeman's leadership of Ventura County agency.

April 24, 2002|CATHERINE SAILLANT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Ventura County supervisors fired Behavioral Health Department Director David Gudeman on Tuesday, culminating months of growing criticism over his leadership of the troubled mental health division of the county Health Care Agency.

Board of Supervisors Chairman John Flynn announced the 4-0 decision after a two-hour closed session. Supervisor Frank Schillo, a Gudeman ally, was out of state and did not vote.

Supervisors declined to discuss details of the deliberations, calling it a confidential personnel issue.

But reached later, one supervisor said she hopes Gudeman's dismissal would begin the process of healing a department that has been plagued by turf wars and administrative squabbles for more than four years. "I'm hoping people in the department will let the dust clear, continue to do their jobs, do it well and put this stuff for the past few years behind us," Supervisor Judy Mikels said after the meeting. "What we need right now is to come together and keep patient care in the forefront."

Gudeman, 43, was not in the boardroom when the decision was announced. Reached later, he said he listened to the vote on a county audio system.

The UCLA-trained psychiatrist said he is unsure what he will do next.

He said he enjoyed working with the 450 employees in the Behavioral Health Department during his three years at the helm of the $50-million agency, which provides mental health services to needy and indigent patients.

Gudeman disputed the contention that mental health services have suffered on his watch.

"The department's in much better shape than it was when I took it over three years ago," he said. "I'll leave it at that."

Critics say Gudeman failed to end bureaucratic infighting that has plagued Behavioral Health for years. He recently ignited a Superior Court judge's wrath by refusing to treat a mentally ill teenager sentenced to a Camarillo work program.

And under his administration, critics say, the mental health division has moved away from collaboration with other county departments.

Supervisor Kathy Long said it's time to return to cooperative efforts to help people with mental illness function in society.

"It's healthy to do a national search for his replacement and to have a lot of public input," Long said. "We need to bring in someone with both administrative skills and a commitment to [collaboration]."

Schillo condemned the action of his colleagues, calling it a "rush to judgment."

"They did it in a way that is just disgraceful," Schillo said from Washington, where he is lobbying for support for the county's military bases.

"They would not allow him to speak at [last week's] board meeting. The appropriate thing would be for the state and federal government to come down and evaluate him. And they wouldn't do that."

Pierre Durand, director of the Health Care Agency, appointed psychologist Linda Shulman to serve as acting director of Behavioral Health. Shulman has been chief operating officer for two years and will oversee daily operations until a permanent director is appointed.

Dr. Michael Ferguson, a psychiatrist who has previously worked in the Behavioral Health Department, will serve as acting medical director. Gudeman held both titles.

County Executive Officer Johnny Johnston said the recruitment process will take three to six months. Shulman will be paid between $79,000 and $114,000 annually for her interim duties, officials said.

Shulman is licensed as a marriage, family and child counselor and earned a master's degree in business administration from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, in 1996. Before coming to the county, she worked as a consultant on mental health issues. In 1990, she founded Pathways Counseling Services, a nonprofit outpatient company based in Buena Park.

Probation Agency chief Cal Remington, who often feuded with Gudeman, said he looks forward to working with the new administration.

"The whole goal of all of this is to work in a partnership that will deliver needed services to a difficult population. We are committed to achieving that goal."

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