Officials Fire Head of Helena Mental Health Center

By Beacon Staff

HELENA – The services director for Helena’s Center for Mental Health says she was fired after telling administrators the center was overburdened and wouldn’t accept new clients.

“We are totally, totally maxed out,” Rhonda Champagne told the Independent Record on Thursday.

The center’s interim CEO Sydney Blair said Champagne was relieved of her duties as director, in part because she didn’t consult with administrators before making the decision.

Blair said Shirley Cayko, who works in a similar position at the center’s Great Falls facility, would serve as interim director in Helena. He said Champagne was offered another position.

Blair said restructuring had been under consideration for a while, but that “it was a big decision to make the change at this time.”

Champagne has worked at the center for 18 years and was appointed director in September 2008. She said the new position she was offered was clearly a demotion and involved children’s services, something she’s never done.

“It would be unethical for me to take that position when I have no experience in working with children and no training,” she said.

Champagne was placed on administrative leave for five days in February, after publicly stating the nonprofit was on the verge of bankruptcy, something Blair has denied. Days earlier, the center cut 14 jobs and reduced hours for another 14 employees.

When she was reinstated, Champagne said she was directed not to discuss the facility’s finances.

The center’s website says its 380 employees provide services to about 5,700 clients at 22 sites in central Montana that include outpatient treatment, day treatment and group homes. Champagne said the center has 1,642 clients in Lewis and Clark, Broadwater, Jefferson and Meagher counties.

She said after the recent cuts, the Helena center was over the staff-to-client ratio required by the state in many of its programs.

In addition, one of the center’s full-time employees authorized to prescribe medications to clients died recently, while an advanced practice registered nurse took a leave of absence for personal reasons. That left one psychiatrist, who previously worked part time, to prescribe and monitor drugs for more than 800 clients.

“That’s asking a tremendous amount of one person,” Champagne said.

She said she believed it was unethical to serve clients with so few people, so she told administrators that they would not take new clients unless they were in crisis.

“I said it was an injustice to do that to our people and to our clients,” she said.

Blair declined to comment on the client ratio or on Champagne’s concerns over adding new clients.

“But any manager, before they make that decision, would need to work with the administration to make that decision,” Blair said.

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Information from: Independent Record, http://www.helenair.com

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