Officials say the scandal that has rocked Timpanogos Community Mental Health Center has unfortunately given publicly funded mental health a bad name.

Timpanogos Director Don Muller said Wednesday he worries that the alleged misappropriation of millions of dollars by the center's administrators "has been used as an example of overfunding. Some say, `why not cut mental health funding across the state?' Taxpayers have paid a dear price and we are working to recover that, but the real loser is the consumer."It is very hard to pass judgment on Timpanogos and the mental health system and understand the loss of revenue," Muller said. "It was truly taken away from patient care. That's where the robbery occurred."

Both Muller and Jackson Howard, attorney for the authority board - made up of county commissioners from Utah, Wasatch and Summit counties - responded to inquiries into Timp Mental Health's progress at a press conference Wednesday in the Utah County Commission Chambers.

"We have moved as fast as we can move in the case," Howard said. "We've had to deal with barriers and we have dealt with them. I'm confident we will get to the heart in due course."

Howard said there has been a time lag because a number of legal motions have been filed in the civil lawsuits. Those named in the suits have refused to give depositions, have tried to get the suits dismissed on technical grounds and have filed a motion to disqualify the four 4th District judges, who are accused of being biased on the pending litigation.

Howard said the board is asking that $3.8 million of the $4 million be returned by the three major defendants, former executive director Glen R. Brown, youth program director Carl V. Smith and finance director Craig W. Stephens.

Brown, Smith and Stephens resigned in April following allegations that they and five other center administrators mismanaged and misused more than $3.5 million in public funds during a four-year period.

Other civil suits have been filed against former accounting technician Deanna Westwood, program director James Schwartz, and program director Allen Fife.

Attorney Dave Lambert, who works with Howard, said the six lawsuits have been filed and negotiations are underway with four other suspended administrators, three of whom have not been sued yet.

The $4 million recovery figure came from an evaluation made by Utah County Auditor Bruce Peacock. Howard said Peacock has reviewed several audits, including the legislative auditors' report, and a social services report for misused funds from July 1983 to the present time.

"We have concluded that the audit information we have acquired asks for $4 million in restitution from certain people," Howard said. "The audit is not yet complete. It's a major undertaking . . . we can't really tell you, but we do know that an enormous amount of money ought to be restored to the center."

Howard said counsel is also making a claim on insurance policies (a fidelity bond) carried by the center to protect the public interest. Because of the alleged misconduct of officers, Howard said he expects to get $100,000 a year per employee, but the insurance company is saying that Timp Mental Health cannot make three claims per year, and instead only one premium will be paid each year.

"We do have a source of monies that can be acquired for reimbursement to Timpanogos," he said.

Muller said once those funds are recovered, they will be used to improve facilities at the center. In the past, employees believed that the center was using worn-out furniture and blankets because of a tight budget. Instead, funds were being siphoned off by top administrators.

"We are here today because of dedicated workers who stayed on at the center," Muller said. "I think we are going well in that direction. Cutting specialty contracts created some heartburn for me when it created inequities and misclassifications for personnel. But we are trying to adjust now."

Muller pointed out that part of the center's violation occurred when non-licensed staff performed services under contracts that called for licensed professionals. Staff members suffered because they were not paid for the work they were performing. At the same time patient care suffered because of the lack of professionals.

In the past five months, however, the number of professional staff members has increased 173 percent. Inpatient services have also been upgraded and moved to Utah Valley Regional Medical Center. Outpatient services, another area lacking at the center, has also seen improvements with more professionals on board.

"I think we've made substantial goals and can feel proud of our accomplishments," Muller said. "I hope those critical of us can be proud too."