A clinical director suspended from Timpanogos Community Mental Health Center will go before the center's board of directors Monday to answer questions about accusations he mismanaged funds at the tri-county facility.
Interim director Dave Dangerfield said Dr. Richard Spencer suspended last month from the center was called back to work last week because "there are not enough doctors to cover all that needs to be done."The two men met Friday to discuss Spencer's status at the center. Dangerfield is expected to recommend that the board of directors rehire Spencer.
"We heard his side of the story (in an expedited hearing) and have the audit findings, and we are prepared to make a specific recommendation to the authority board on Monday. And they will decide what his actual situation should be."
Utah County commissioners have vowed to remove from the center those involved in the abuses. Spencer, however, seems to be an exception.
Dangerfield also confirmed that the center has two current lease agreements with Glen Brown, who resigned as Timpanogos' executive director following the allegations, and several lease agreements with suspended administrator Derek Timms. However, he said plans are being made to terminate the leases.
A legislative audit released last month revealed administrative abuse at Timp Mental Health in which eight administrators received $3.5 million above their base salaries during the past four years.
The Timp Mental Health board had hoped the eight suspended employees would resign so the board would not have to fire them. So far, however, only Brown, Finance Director Craig Stevens and Youth Program Director Carl Smith have tendered their resignations.
County Commissioner Gary Anderson, board chairman, said hearings for suspended employees were postponed last week while officials huddled with legal counsel to discuss what action to take against the employees. He said suspended employees also have retained legal counsel to fight their dismissals.
Don Muller of the Utah Division of Mental Health said he doesn't believe any of those suspended can remain at the center in light of the legislative audit.
Dangerfield said Spencer, suspended in the wake of allegations that he was making almost twice his base salary from contract and credit card allowances, is again working at the center under an emergency contract to continue working with patients.
"He was responsible for a number of patients," Dangerfield said. "We had a difficult situation because we couldn't leave those patients with no medical coverage."
Spencer was hired on an hour-by-hour basis to perform direct patient care only, Dangerfield said. He has not been reinstated and is not performing his former duties or responsibilities.
"Our first concern is for the patients, and the patients he attends to are by and large very positive about him coming back," he said. "They know and care for him and have shown a lot of support."
In addition to an annual base salary of almost $67,000 last year, auditors said Spencer paid himself another $35,400 from contract earnings and $9,400 from credit card allowances. Spencer and four other administrators gave themselves personal credit card privileges for three years amounting to $400,000, auditors said.
"I can see why people in the community would ask why he (Spencer) is here, but the community needs to understand the legal process to be followed and his rights. He is entitled to a fair hearing process, and we are trying to do that."
Dangerfield said he was informed on Thursday that the center leases two facilities owned by Brown. They are leased through a firm called Management and Professional Services and include a 12-plex located at 645 E. Sixth North and a group home at 1259 E. Seventh North. The interim director said a title search showed Brown owned the property.
Auditors said Brown earned $149,000 last year from the center, including almost $30,000 from credit card allowances, $22,000 from contract earnings and $6,200 for a car allowance.
"We will be making recommendations to the authority board that the lease be canceled on one facility and canceled in an orderly fashion at the other facility because patients are still there," Dangerfield said.
The lease payments to the facility owned by Brown were stopped Friday, he said.
"One of our biggest concerns is that we are dealing with a very volatile and fragile patient population. They become frightened and confused by things that go on. We just can't say, `Tomorrow we are going to move you.' In the first place, we don't have a place to move them. The community is resistant to have mental health facilities in neighborhoods."
Another suspended center administrator, Timms, has also leased property to the center. Legislative auditors criticized Timms for inflating rent. No action has been taken yet on leases with Timms because Dangerfield said they can't break leases until patients can be moved to a new facility.
"We just cannot break the leases with no plans for the patients. We are making plans now to decide what we can do to ensure the patients are taken care of and have a facility."
Dangerfield said his staff will review all the contractual and property lease agreements at the center including service contracts within a week, and hearings will be conducted for possible disciplinary action against suspended employees.
Some center employees continue to work under unusual contractual privileges because many of them are caring for patients, Dangerfield said.