Ventura County Behavioral Health Department Faces Likely Overhaul After Legal Fight Over Denial of Care
Ventura County Executive Officer Johnny Johnston will recommend later this month that the county Board of Supervisors separate Ventura's "troubled" Behavioral Health Department from the county Health Care Agency, the Los Angeles Times reports. Johnston will make the recommendation in part as a result of a legal dispute that the department faces over a decision not to treat a mentally ill teenager. Superior Court Judge John Dobroth will hold a hearing today to discuss the case, in which the department "refused to treat a teenage boy who had been sentenced to a work program in Camarillo," arguing that department psychiatrists "were not contractually obligated to drive the 13 miles from their Ventura office to the Camarillo site." Dobroth has threatened to issue a court order as early as today that would require the county to provide the treatment, and the Board of Supervisors has instructed Johnston to assure Dobroth that the department will provide the treatment.
The legal dispute represents the "latest evidence" of the "free fall" of the department, the Times reports. According to critics, David Gudeman, who has headed the 440-employee department since 1999, "lacks the skills to run a large government agency" and has mismanaged the department's $50 million budget. Gudeman defended the department and his tenure. He said that the department "has treated more people on fewer dollars -- and has done it at a higher level of quality -- than [under] his predecessors." In addition, Gudeman said that he plans to expand a psychiatric residency program to allow more residents to treat youths with mental health problems. However, on April 16, Johnson will recommend the separation of the department from the county Health Care Agency to "make it easier to focus on administrative tasks and establish clearer lines of authority." County Supervisor John Flynn said, "That would expose the problems we have and make it easier to fix them" (Saillant, Los Angeles Times, 4/8).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.