Salt Lake County's private mental health service avoids misusing money by keeping its actions public, its director says.
David Dangerfield, director of Salt Lake Valley Mental Health Inc., also said his agency's business administrator, Doug Kettle, was effectively working full time even though a state audit of the Timpanogos Community Mental Health Center showed he was being paid $2,000 a month as a consultant for that facility."We keep public records of all our meetings," Dangerfield said Wednesday. "All our contracts have to be on the agenda.
"Our mission is a public mission, even though we are private. We have an obligation to be watchful stewards."
State auditors said they found no irregularities during a recent eight-day review of salaries and expenditures at Salt Lake Valley Mental Health. The county turned its mental health care over to the private agency last year after prolonged negotiations.
But Chief Deputy Salt Lake County Attorney Bill Hyde said Wednesday the county should revamp its contract with Valley Mental Health. The current contract does not prevent some of the abuses recently discovered at the Timpanogos center, he said. Although it is a private, non-profit company, Valley Mental Health is funded by the county and state.
Administrators of the Timpanogos facility recently were suspended after a legislative audit discovered several employees misused at least $3.5 million since 1984.
Hyde said he will ask county commissioners for permission to negotiate changes.
But Dangerfield, who has been appointed temporary director of the Timpanogos center, said abuses could not go undetected for long at his agency, and he wants to impose similar standards at the scandal-plagued center in Utah County.
"The more open you are, the less likelihood there is of having abuses," Danger-field said, noting his agency holds weekly public meetings and keeps minutes of what is said and done.
Dangerfield defended Kettle, who was criticized by auditors for having a vague contract with Timpanogos that called for services already being provided by others.
"He (Kettle) is an excellent employee of Valley Mental Health," Dangerfield said Wednesday. "He does his job beyond expectations. I know how many hours he puts in here."
Salt Lake Valley Mental Health is controlled by a board of directors that must include representatives from an ethnic minority and a group advocating rights for patients.
Those rules were formed after minorities and patients protested the move to a private service, saying there was no guarantee people would be given needed treatment.
A finance committee, made up of board members, sets the agency's budget and regularly reviews expenditures. County officials also receive detailed financial reports, Danger-field said. Managers within the facility also are given finance reports.
State auditors learned that some Timpanogos officials earned more than $100,000 through contracts in 1987. Some were contracting repeatedly with the center to perform their normal duties, thus paying themselves several times for the same job.
Hyde said he wants Salt Lake County to amend its mental health contract to make sure Valley Mental Health officials can't sign such contracts and can't contract with other governments or private groups.
Dangerfield said the Valley Mental Health board will meet soon to set a policy on workers signing contracts.