Scandal Follows Mental-Health Pick from Former Job; Pushed out after Yearlong Probe

Article excerpt

Byline: Timothy Warren, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Maryland's new deputy secretary of behavioral health and disabilities compiled a record of patient scandals and a whistleblower lawsuit at a similar position in Delaware over the past nine years. Renata Henry, 59, was pushed out of Delaware's Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health in September after a yearlong legislative probe of patient abuse and neglect culminated in a damning auditor's report on the handling of patient finances.

Almost immediately, she found a new home in Maryland's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

God help Maryland, said Dr. David Springer, former head of medical staff at the Delaware Psychiatric Center (DPC). Dr. Springer, an outspoken critic of management at Delaware's only public psychiatric facility, won a federal whistleblower lawsuit after Ms. Henry fired him in 2000.

Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene Secretary John Colmers' decision to hire Ms. Henry was announced with little fanfare.

We were aware there were concerns and she and others were thoroughly vetted in the hiring process. The overwhelming feedback was that Renata Henry has outstanding leadership and management skills, said John Hammond, a Maryland health department spokesman.

In August, Delaware House Majority Leader Richard Cathcart, chairman of a special investigative committee, called for Ms. Henry and Health and Social Services Secretary Vince Meconi to resign after the state auditor highlighted possible misuse of patient trust fund accounts by staff at the state hospital. Ms. Henry resigned in September. She did not return calls seeking comment for this story.

Mr. Cathcart's investigation was spurred by a special report in the Wilmington News Journal in July 2007. The article quoted nurses at the facility saying excessive force was used against patients and that staff who spoke out against it had their cars vandalized.

The hospital faced numerous accusations about mistreatment of patients during Ms. Henry's tenure - including verbal and physical assault by staff, overmedication and safety concerns. One patient said that staff ignored her complaint of sexual abuse by another patient. Reports of abuse, neglect or mistreatment at the hospital more than tripled from 2001 to 2006, from 35 to 119.

More than a year ago, my committee began investigating the DPC, and what we found was astounding, Mr. Cathcart told the News Journal in August. We found patients had been abused, neglected and intimidated, and to date, nothing has changed in [the state mental health division] leadership. …