Paul Post of the Saratogian has written a story called “Who Hired Mental Health Director.”
It is interesting that consistent with the indifference to transparency and openness, county administrator Hellwig Spenser, apparently would only answer questions via email. Clearly he wanted to avoid the risk of follow up questions that might further expose the truth. The story makes clear that the assertions by Hellwig and Supervisor Matt Veitch that the Community Services Board selected Dr. Michael Prezioso are false. Unfortunately, Hellwig was able to assert that the psychiatrists did not leave because of the poisonous environment at the department and that the department is functioning effectively without rebuttal. Neither of these things are true. It is clear that the county is going to support Dr. Prezioso in spite of the damage that he is doing to the department.
Who hired mental health director?
Independent board lacked say in final selection
Monday, July 13, 2015
The controversial Saratoga County mental health clinic director was one of four candidates recommended for the job by an independent board which, according to state law, should have been making the ultimate decision.
Instead, the county Board of Supervisors reviewed the finalists and chose Dr. Michael Prezioso, saying later they didn’t know he had sexually harassed an employee at his previous workplace.
And while County Administrator Spencer Hellwig acknowledged that the fairly recent departure of doctors created a shortage that affected services, he made no connection between their leaving and Prezioso’s management style and said the staff situation has been resolved.
The hiring and staffing issues raise questions about how candidates are vetted and the relationship between Saratoga County and the Community Services Board.
Hellwig has said the Community Services Board, established by state law, does the hiring for this position. However, board Chairman Dr. Frank Arcangelo, in a letter to Hellwig, said the board simply reviewed and ranked four finalists for the job, and that the county chose Prezioso from that list. He did not say where Prezioso stood in the rankng.
“The final selection and hiring was conducted by the (county) personnel department and not the Community Services Board,” Arcangelo said in a June 24 letter to Hellwig. “In fact, as far as I know, no formal feedback was ever provided to the Community Services Board about the hiring process or decision, as board members found out (who was chosen) via the article eventually appearing in the local newspaper.”
Prezioso, who makes $97,244, has been the subject of ongoing controversy since it came to light this spring that a state report said he allegedly sexually harassed an employee while working at a prior job. Three Saratoga Springs City Council members have called for an investigation into the situation and the mental health clinic’s operations, while a handful of clinic employees recently defended Prezioso at a county Board of Supervisors meeting, saying he is being unfairly targeted by disruptive workers.
Hellwig and county Board of Supervisors Chairman Matt Veitch, who is one of Saratoga Springs’ two representatives on the county board, have said the county had no knowledge of the alleged sexual harassment incident at Prezioso’s former job, with the Capital District Psychiatric Center in Albany, when the county interviewed and hired him.
The selection committee that chose Prezioso consisted of Hellwig; Veitch; Clifton Park Supervisor Anita Daly, as chair of the county board’s personnel committee; former Malta Supervisor Paul Sausville, who was the county board chairman; and former county Personnel Director Jack Kalinkewicz, who retired at the end of last year.
Hellwig said Monday that Prezioso was selected over the other recommended candidates because of his academic background, professional experience and familiarity with a public-sector mental health facility such as the county’s.
Arcangelo could not immediately be reached for comment. However, his letter to Hellwig said the four finalists were ranked according to preference.
That’s not how Hellwig interpreted the list.
“We got a list of four names,” Hellwig said. “There was no ranking that I’m aware of, just a list of suitable candidates. It was a year ago.”
The Board of Supervisors approved Prezioso’s hiring last July and he began work in September.
The mental health director’s salary is paid for by the county. However, state law calls for the director to be hired by a county-appointed Community Services Board comprised of mental health professionals, who presumably are most qualified to choose the best person for the job.
But in this case the board merely reviewed candidates and left the final selection up to the county Board of Supervisors.
Hellwig said, “The reality is, the county is footing the bill for all these services – professional costs and administrative oversight. There has been a mutual understanding over the years, before I became administrator, that we would work together.”
The county’s mental health clinic is located on South Broadway in Saratoga Springs. Last month, Mayor Joanne Yepsen, Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan and Public Safety Commissioner Chris Mathiesen said many employees had left because of the clinic’s “toxic” workplace environment, possibly jeopardizing client services.
Doctors who work at the clinic are employed by Saratoga Hospital, but are paid by the county under a county contract with the hospital.
Hellwig wrote Monday in an email responding to questions: “I can tell you that the contract employees who left were leaving to pursue other professional opportunities. This did create a shortage of professionals available to meet our minimum contract agreement for physicians with Saratoga Hospital. It has long been a challenge for public sector mental health clinics like ours to compete with the private sector in hiring psychiatrists to treat our clients, which is why several years ago we moved to a contractual arrangement with Saratoga Hospital.
“The recent departure of some of these doctors only exacerbated the issue, and with the controversy surrounding the center, shined a light on the issue,” Hellwig continued. “Since the time that these shortages were reported, the county acted and has created a nurse practitioner position, which moves many of the physicians’ duties to a nurse position. Also, Saratoga Hospital has sent the county three new doctors, to assist in alleviating the shortage in our contract with the hospital. So, with those actions, we have brought the center back to where we expect (it should be) with the amount of services we should be providing to our residents.”
Arcangelo’s letter to Hellwig said there are also “seems to be some confusion about the role and scope” of the Community Services Board’s responsibilities with regard to mental health director’s job performance and clinic operations. Historically, the board has served in an advisory capacity to the mental health director, he said.
“The Community Services Board has not functioned in any capacity relating to clinic supervision, internal clinic or other agency staff issues or grievances, or supervision of the (director),” Arcangelo said. “I am aware that New York State mental hygiene statute grants the local Community Services Boards greater administrative scope than our current and historical model would suggest, but this has not been the model adopted in Saratoga County for many years.”