Case workers at the Timpanogos Mental Health Center were helpful, even if administrators were unresponsive, say parents of several children treated there.
"The administrators tried to keep parents' mouths shut and keep them calm. The people who are on the front lines are wonderful. The case workers are dedicated, but the administrators treated us like a nuisance," said one mother. "They wanted us all at arms length, and `don't get any closer.' "Another mother, Myree Barrows, first sought help for her then-teenage son 10 years ago and was told there was no room.
"When I first brought my son here, the clinical director was cold and unfeeling. His time was terribly important, but he just didn't want to take any time for the families," Barrows said. "Sometimes it's really a matter of life and death to get attention. We had to go through a very long, involved process to get into the center, and then they said: `Sorry, there's just no room for him. You'll just have to deal with it yourself.'
"The day they turned us away I didn't think I was going to make it home alive," Barrows said. "My son was in a crisis state, and he got in our car and drove 90 mph through the canyon. My baby was in the back seat. At night we couldn't sleep. We would lay there and think, `He's going to kill one of the other kids.' "
From the outside, Barrows' family appears to be a typical middle-class family. But she was trying to do something that requires more than patience control a 6-foot, 200-pound young man who is scared and confused.
That was her reality when her son was turned away from Timpanogos. She took him home that day but continued to seek help at the center, which receives state and county money to serve mentally ill residents in the area.
After Barrows finally got an administrator to tell her that her son was mentally ill, she was able to get him assigned to a case worker, who turned out to be a lifesaver.
"Every mental health social worker that I've ever associated with here has been just top-notch," she said. "The workers are concerned about the patients, and they have creative ideas about how to improve the program, but they don't have money to do what they want."
Barrows eventually became president of the Alliance for the Mentally Ill, a parents' group that tries to get involved with children's treatment. The parents thought there wasn't enough group therapy and individual counseling, for example. So they invited center director Glen Brown to a meeting.
"He wouldn't listen to us. Glen Brown talked the entire night about his own political influence and how there was no money in the program. He said, `This whole thing you're talking about is nothing more than money,' meaning the lack of money," Barrows said. "He told us, `You just go home and live your own lives.' We were just being weak and emotional."
Angered and frustrated, Barrows resigned her position. Her anger turned to rage last week with the release of a legislative auditor's report that says Brown and seven other Timp administrators had pocketed up to $3.5 million of public money during the past four years.
Barrows now blames those administrators, who have resigned or been suspended, for depriving patients of much-needed services.
Contacted by the Deseret News, Brown said: "I'd just rather not comment on the whole thing. I've resigned and until some of these things are ironed out, it would just be better if I didn't comment."
A current Timpanogos patient believes he could not exist without the center.
"I only have praise for that place," Paris Anderson said. "Those people devoted their lives to helping others, which is probably the most Christian of all things. I don't know anything about (the misuse of funds). I just know that they're helping me. It doesn't bother me, because they are helping me. They helped me when no one else would, because I didn't have any money. I think it's a terrible thing for society at large to worry about the money when (people in society) were the ones who wouldn't help me because of money."
Another parent, whose son had only a brief encounter with Timpanogos after attempting suicide, shares outrage. He knew something was seriously wrong at the center long before the auditor's report came out.
His boy was taken to the mental health center in December after he'd been treated at a local hospital for a drug overdose. The boy stayed for about one week, his father said.
"He had a 10-minute session with a therapist while he was there, and when we went to a follow-up appointment, the first question the therapist asked when we sat down was, `Oh, Richard, do you still feel like committing suicide?' and from there it was downhill until I blew up," the father said. "There was no help given. I took him right out of there. I wasn't going to have any more to do with it. There was no one who could spend time with him and talk with him. I was told that funds were short, so after seeing what was ripped off, I'm mad."
After getting help for his son through a program at Brigham Young University, the father took his complaints about Timp to county commissioners.
Utah County Commissioner Gary Anderson says patients are treated well at Timpanogos.