ST. PAUL, Minn. — Gov. Mark Dayton said Wednesday the Minnesota Security Hospital that houses patients who have been committed as mentally ill or sexually dangerous is antiquated and in need of upgrades — improvements that he argues are made even more urgent by the recent departures of seven of the facility's psychiatrists.
Dayton and Department of Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson visited the hospital in St. Peter on Wednesday so the governor could get a first-hand look at the facility serving the state's hardest-to-control patients.
His bonding proposal includes $40 million to remodel the hospital, including improving narrow hallways and poor sightlines to increase patient and staff safety.
In a telephone interview with The Associated Press, Dayton said he had his visit planned before several of the hospital's psychiatrists left over the management style of new administrator David Proffitt, who has been on the job since September. The resignations give the funding new urgency, he said.
"Some of the substandard, obsolete conditions make it more difficult for the staff ... and make it easier for patients to begin exhibiting the wrong behaviors before they are protected," he said.
Dayton said he didn't discuss the resignations with Proffitt, saying he has confidence Jesson is handling the situation. Jesson hired an attorney to investigate allegations that Proffitt created a hostile work environment.
Profit did not return a phone call seeking comment.
"If you come in and people do things differently, not everybody is going to jump on board," Dayton said. "But as they describe the direction they are going, from punitive to a more supportive environment, that's a much better mental health approach than treating somebody like they're in a prison."
Dayton said the facility is shifting its approach to emphasize support and empathy over restrictions. He said it will take time for staff to learn new skills, and for patients to realize they are in a different environment.
"It sounds to me like they are going in the right direction in terms of a more therapeutic approach, and at the same time separating individuals from society until they are in a condition where they can function in some way, under supervision," Dayton said.
According to information from Human Services, seven psychiatrists recently left Minnesota Security Hospital, or are leaving effective this month. The number includes three resignations, a contract that ended, transfers, and one firing. An eighth doctor is on leave.
DHS said the reasons for the resignations are not public.
But an attorney representing most of the doctors said Proffitt created a hostile work environment. Greg Corwin said his clients claim Proffitt interfered with medical decisions and treatment and made his own decisions on use of restraints, leaving many doctors fearing they'd lose their license or be fired.
"I would characterize it as a reign of terror," Corwin said.
The doctor who was fired, Michael Harlow, said he was told his values were not in line with the direction of the organization and his methods were deemed "non-therapeutic." He was fired Dec. 20 after he placed a patient in seclusion who had threatened to kill a female nurse.
Harlow said that up until the point of his firing, there hadn't been any official changes in hospital policy or procedures. He claims his firing was without merit.
DHS said there are over 800 employees at the hospital serving about 380 patients, but Harlow said the doctors who left represent all of the psychiatrists on staff. Terry Gunderson, Human Services spokeswoman, said the hospital is in the process of hiring a new medical director.
Proffitt came to Minnesota from The Acadia Hospital in Bangor, Maine, which was fined $11,700 by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration for failing to provide a safe workplace for employees — after violent patients assaulted staff 115 times from 2008 through 2011.
OSHA began investigating after employees complained that Proffitt's efforts to eliminate the use of restraints had let to a sharp increase in worker injuries.
Last September, Proffitt told the AP he he'd never prohibit all use of restraints, but would work to reduce the need for them.