08/29/08 — Outside firm will take a look at Cherry Hospital

View Archive

Outside firm will take a look at Cherry Hospital

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on August 29, 2008 1:39 PM

State officials intend to contract the services of an independent firm to evaluate operations at Cherry Hospital -- and are looking to increase security on the grounds.

Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Dempsey Benton has directed the Division of Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities and Substance Abuse Services to enlist a hospital management firm to study the operation and management structure of Cherry.

"The serious and ongoing nature of issues at Cherry Hospital has convinced me that an outside evaluation by an independent hospital management group is necessary in order to identify problems and to recommend immediate steps for corrections and improvements," he said.

Leza Wainwright, MH/DD/SAS co-director, has already begun conversations with "folks around the country to get ideas for companies," Tom Lawrence, public affairs director for DHHS, said this morning. "The secretary just felt that it's time to get an independent party and take a look at things."

There are a number of firms that are specialized in this area, Lawrence said. Once secured, he said they will essentially take charge.

"They'll probably run the hospital while they're doing this evaluation, see where the soft spots are as it were, certainly in conjunction with Jack (St. Clair, hospital director)," he said.

Ms. Wainwright said the division hopes to identify a firm and to have a contract in place within two weeks.

"We want a top-to-bottom evaluation of every aspect of the hospital, including staffing, organizational structure, the competence and effectiveness of managers and supervisors at all levels and all other components of hospital management and operational activities," she said. "We will be looking for their recommendations for any structural and personnel adjustments the division needs to implement to ensure that Cherry Hospital is equipped to deliver the quality of care people expect and deserve from a state psychiatric hospital."

Benton has also directed the division to implement increased security measures at Cherry.

Lawrence said that could translate to enlisting efforts of other local agencies, such as the Sheriff's Office where training in specialized areas would be beneficial.

"We feel that sworn officers would be better than just hiring a security firm," he explained. "I think the secretary wants that done as soon as possible."

Ms. Wainwright said the state is currently in discussion with local law enforcement agencies to negotiate the hiring of off-duty officers as contracted employees to provide a higher level of security presence on the Cherry campus.

Another area of concern -- salaries of mental health staff -- might also receive some attention, Lawrence said.

"The governor's office as a result of the meeting of the legislative oversight committee, they're looking at the pay scales for staff and hospital directors," he said. "The feeling is they're below where they should be and (there) seems to be some pretty strong support for making a change there if they find that's the case."

Meanwhile, an on-site investigative team from the state is wrapping up its study that began earlier this week, Lawrence said.

"I have not heard about the status of the team that is currently at Cherry. My feeling is they will attempt to wrap up today or tomorrow, in light of the Labor Day holiday," he said, adding, "That's not the critical thing. The critical thing is to get this done."