01/18/09 — Former employee suit against Cherry heard

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Former employee suit against Cherry heard

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on January 18, 2009 2:00 AM

After nearly six years of waiting, Len Henderson has had his day in court.

The case of the former staff development director at Cherry Hospital was heard in Wayne County Superior Court on Friday by Judge PaulRidgeway. No decision was rendered, however.

"He said that he would have to review the file and then make a determination," Henderson said, adding, "I felt real good about it. I think the judge was very interested in the case."

Henderson, who considers himself a "whistle-blower," filed his administrative appeal in April 2003 after being demoted -- and ultimately released -- for communicating with members of the state General Assembly, specifically Sen. John Kerr and Rep. Larry Bell.

"I had gone to see John Kerr," Henderson admitted. "I followed all of the procedures. However, it appears that the state has not followed its own procedures."

He is referring to how the matter was handled once it came under scrutiny. According to state policy, a final decision should have been rendered within 90 days. That was nearly six years ago.

Henderson, who began working at Cherry in April 1994 after 10 years at O'Berry Center, served in several capacities during his nine years at the psychiatric hospital. His last position was as staff development director.

He still believes that his dissatisfaction with some of the practices he witnessed there led to his undoing.

"Basically because of the fact (that) I was reporting incidents of improper treatment, gross mismanagement and inadequate training for our staff," he said. "Because I made those reports, that was the reason I was given the demotion."

He was cited for personal conduct infractions -- for having communicated with persons outside the agency -- and that the disciplinary action went through a chain of command for resolution. At no time, Henderson maintains, was he given an opportunity to speak in his own defense.

Ultimately, his demotion was appealed to the Secretary of the state Department of Health and Human Services. But when no decision was rendered and the Office of Administrative Hearings never handed down a decision.

Now, he sayd, it's ironic that many of the same issues he raised nearly six years ago have again resurfaced, creating a new round of problems at Cherry Hospital.

"A lot of my concerns that I was raising were based on the training deficiencies that I had noted -- such as the protective intervention course," he said. "The hospital was more concerned about the physical contact than to resolve any type of de-escalation techniques.

"These were cited in the last investigation they did at Cherry, saying that the staff were inadequately trained."

When it became apparent Cherry would not reinstate Henderson to his former position, he said he had no choice but to try to mitigate the damages to his livelihood.

Providing evidence of the "harassment and retaliation" to his physician, he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and was advised not to return to the same working conditions.

He was initially placed on short-term disability and then long-term disability.

"After I was approved for long-term disability, the state then chose to come back and remove the demotion from my personnel files," he said. "Yet they never did acknowledge any wrongdoing."

And so Friday was a day he had waited for since 2003.

, Henderson has waited patiently for his moment to plead his case, and in Friday's hearing, he represented himself and remains optimistic about the outcome.

"I prayed over it several times and I had prayer warriors with me," he said. "I have received affirmation that there will be positive results from this."