The Free Press, Mankato, MN

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March 27, 2012

St. Peter Security Hospital director removed

ST PETER — The short-lived and controversial tenure of Minnesota Security Hospital CEO David Proffitt is over.

Proffitt resigned his post at the St. Peter facility Tuesday upon the completion of an investigation into numerous complaints that he created a hostile work environment and engaged in harassment and retaliation.

 Those complaints were not substantiated, according to the Department of Human Services, but the investigation found that Proffitt engaged in inappropriate behavior and that a change in leadership was in the best interests of the facility.

Proffitt’s style was described as “loud and intense,” and staff members said he “is intimidating and that his comments carry implicit threats,” the report stated.

“Many witnesses described that they felt as though they worked in an atmosphere of fear, and medical staff was afraid that they would be second-guessed if they acted,” according to the conclusions of the investigation done by the Minneapolis law firm of Ratwik, Roszak & Maloney.

The report also was critical of staff members, including the psychiatrists who left the facility en masse — through resignations or firings — after Proffitt’s arrival in August. And it stated that Proffitt had inherited a troubled facility.

“Mr. Proffitt also had to deal with staff members who were not interested in change and a psychiatry staff that harbored a deep resentment for a non-doctor administrator who asked questions about care and medication issues. ... Further, witnesses confirmed that it did not take much to set off the psychiatrists because they already had one foot out the door when Mr. Proffitt arrived.”

A statement by Deputy Commissioner of Human Services Anne Barry said Proffitt’s resignation was effective immediately, although he would continue “as a consultant during the transition to new leadership to help ensure we continue the progress toward better patient care.”

The Minnesota Security Hospital is a  locked facility surrounded by razor-wire, housing about 230 patients who need to be provided psychiatric treatment and cared for under protections in place for “vulnerable adults.” Most have violent criminal histories and have been civilly committed as “mentally ill and dangerous” or have been referred by criminal courts for treatment of mental illness.

Improvements at the hospital aren’t optional because the facility has been put on a provisional license by state regulators — partly because of excessive use of physical restraints and seclusion. The provisional license was in effect before the hiring of Proffitt, who was brought in to make changes.

His plan for improving patient care, including a reduction in the use of physical restraints, has broad support, including from Gov. Mark Dayton.

“It looks to me that the administration is in very good hands,” Dayton told The Free Press after a visit to the hospital on Feb. 8, although he cautioned that training and communication needed to be improved.

But DHS officials ultimately decided that Proffitt’s strained relationship with staff make him the wrong person to implement “the very significant changes that need to occur,” according to Barry’s statement.

The developments are nothing new — for Proffitt or for the Security Hospital. Proffitt resigned “effective immediately” just less than a year ago as the CEO of a private 100-bed psychiatric hospital in Bangor, Maine, amid charges that his policies to eliminate patient restraints had led to a significant increase in staff injuries.

“Proffitt also was criticized for an autocratic leadership style that allegedly undermined employee morale as well as patient care at the hospital ... (and) for holding a dubious doctorate from a now-defunct ‘diploma mill,’” the Bangor Daily News reported.

Less than two weeks later, Minnesota officials were forcing out Larry TeBrake after eight years as CEO of the St. Peter Regional Treatment Center, largely because of problems with the management of — morale within — the Security Hospital.

Media reports were read by staff “and it clearly made them nervous about Mr. Proffitt,” Tuesday’s investigative report stated. Proffitt was also undermined by “a lot of untrue rumors on campus,” including false reports about the circumstances surrounding the firing of a staff member after a Nov. 15 incident where a patient was stripped and left standing — naked and screaming — in his room.

 Proffitt consulted with supervisors and a review committee before firing the employee, and there was unanimous support for the termination, according to the investigation. The supervisors, however, later told employees that they didn’t know anything about the firing and didn’t support Proffitt’s decision.

The report also portrays the psychiatrists as peevish about any attempts to supervise them or even ask questions about their decisions.

“It appeared that the doctors had been allowed unfettered autonomy over many aspects of their work performance, including how many hours a week they spent on campus, and were resistant to change,” the report concluded.

Psychiatrists at state facilities are some of the highest paid government employees in Minnesota, with earnings topping $300,000. Two, including one at the Security Hospital, earned more than $400,000 in 2009.

“Some psychiatrists on campus claimed that no one could supervise their work or check to see whether they were putting in their hours,” according to the investigative report, which found that some doctors were not on campus for the required 40 hours a week. “... Mr. Proffitt stated that there was no accountability for the psychiatrists before he came, and that they did not like to be challenged on their bad behavior.”

The report found plenty to criticize about Proffitt’s behavior, as well.

Along with failing to provide training on the new direction for patient restraints and seclusions, Proffitt was sometimes simply offensive or overbearing, according to the report.

At a December meeting, he told staff that “the security counselors had been hired based on the size of their necks,” according to the report. In a Dec. 27 meeting, Proffitt’s aggressive outburst targeted at a nurse caused her to cry and leave the meeting.

“Mr. Proffitt’s intensity is not always productive and sometimes causes him to handle situations poorly,” the investigator determined.

The two lawmakers representing St. Peter said new leadership appears to be required to implement the planned improvements in patient care.

“I don’t think anybody who’s been following this situation is terribly surprised,” said Rep. Terry Morrow, DFL-St. Peter.

 Sen. Kathy Sheran, DFL-Mankato, said preserving the facility’s license is paramount. Proffitt’s plan for making changes at the Security Hospital is getting support, including from those who will make the decision about the license, but his ability to implement it was in serious doubt.

“It’s just way too important to St. Peter and the region to have the facility functioning properly,” Sheran said.

Barry stated that Carol Olson, the administrator of the Community Behavioral Health Hospitals in Rochester and St. Peter, will serve as the interim administrator of the Security Hospital. Dr. Steven Pratt will serve as medical director.

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