Multnomah County launches investigation into mental health complaints

Unity Center for Behavioral Health. (KATU Photo)

Thanks to a whistleblower and report from the Oregon Health Authority, Multnomah County officials are launching an investigation into how they review mental health complaints from the Unity Center for Behavioral Health.

County Chief Operating Officer Marissa Madrigal and County Chair Deborah Kafoury signed off on the investigation Thursday morning.

Multnomah County is the local mental health authority. All complaints of abuse or neglect in the mental health system are directed to it. Last week, county leaders ordered an audit of the complaints reported to the Mental Health and Addiction Services Division.

“There are more questions than answers. The initial audit results left me a lack of certainty and clarity around the process and outcomes of that complaint process,” said Madrigal.

The lack of answers sparked the investigation.

Issues surrounding Unity Health go back to its beginning, according to Greg Monaco. Monaco retired from his position at the county in July. He was a pre-commitment investigator and helped decide whether someone would be committed to a mental facility against their will.

“When I started going [to Unity] I was just hearing horror stories from staff,” he said.

Monaco says he heard about patients who didn’t know they were kept against their will. He heard about injuries to staff. He heard about employees at Unity who were worried about their safety because of understaffing.

“I started telling my supervisor about the stuff I was hearing,” said Monaco.

Monaco says his reports fell on deaf ears among his supervisors at the county.

“I witnessed a chokehold that a security guard placed on a female patient, grabbing her from behind around the neck. I reported each of these up the ladder at the county, and I felt like I was getting the runaround,” he said.

Monaco said his supervisors even questioned him about why he was reporting the issues and told him it wasn’t their responsibility.

“I just couldn't sit with that. I'm seeing it, I'm hearing it,” he said.

Reports from earlier in the year by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Oregon Health Authority back up Monaco’s claims.

In March OSHA cited Unity Health for four violations. It found Unity had not properly handled and investigated injuries to staff members on the job.”

Last month, a report from the Oregon Health Authority looked into patient safety. It “uncovered several issues that jeopardized patient safety.”

Monaco says the county should have begun its investigation a year ago.

“It’s a shame it took this long,” he said.

Madrigal says they launched the investigation after reading the OHA report and heard from Monaco.

“I wanted to ensure I could answer what happened to those complaints? What happened to those people? And did we do everything we possibly could to make sure they were safe,” she said.

Two senior managers within the county were put on administrative leave. Results from the county’s investigation will be shared with the board of commissioners.

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