Turmoil at Minnesota Security Hospital in St. Peter spurs audit

  • Article by: PAUL MCENROE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 3, 2012 - 10:59 PM

Review of agency that cares for the mentally ill and disabled was prompted by reports of maltreatment, mismanagement.


The Minnesota Security Hospital complex in St. Peter is shown at lower left.

Photo: John Cross, Mankato Free Press via AP

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Reports of mismanagement and patient maltreatment at the Minnesota Security Hospital in St. Peter have prompted Legislative Auditor James Nobles to undertake an evaluation of the state agency that cares for mentally ill and disabled Minnesotans.

Nobles said Tuesday that his staff will decide the precise focus of the review within the next several weeks and will try to complete the report by early next year.

"Anything [the agency] operates is potentially going to be included in our inquiry,'' Nobles said. "These issues cannot be ignored.''

In addition to the St. Peter hospital, the review could include residential group programs for vulnerable adults, after separate deaths of two developmentally disabled adults last year, Nobles said. In one case, a man drowned while bathing without proper monitoring; in another, officials found the initial investigation so inadequate that they ordered a second review.

The division known as State Operated Services (SOS), within the Department of Human Services, has been "on our agenda for the last several years,'' Nobles said.

The sprawling SOS branch has been plagued for more than 10 years by complaints and documented cases of mismanagement and neglect of vulnerable residents. Human Services officials acknowledge that poor accountability has led to credibility problems with legislators and families of residents.

The agency employs more than 3,500 people -- including psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, nurses and chemical dependency counselors.

Several months ago, authorities busted a drug-smuggling ring run by patients and friends at a state-run chemical dependency facility in Fergus Falls. In that case, a woman overdosed on drugs and is now on life-support in a hospital.

The agency's latest crisis culminated last month in the firing of St. Peter hospital administrator David Proffitt following a period of staff unrest and turnover.

The hospital, which cares for nearly 400 mentally ill and dangerous patients, was placed on a conditional license by Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson late last year after reports of patient maltreatment, then suffered the resignations of several staff psychiatrists during Proffitt's tenure. Since winter, Assistant Commissioner Anne Barry has spent at least one day a week at the hospital, personally overseeing the operation and trying to assure line staff and professionals that they have the support of the department's top executives.

Controversial hiring

Nobles said it is likely that his auditors will review the department's hiring practices, citing in part the way Proffitt was hired last autumn.

At the time, department officials withheld from Jesson information about Proffitt's background -- including an assault record in Arizona and his stormy background as a hospital executive in Maine. When the Star Tribune reported Proffitt's background in September, department officials acknowledged they had failed to properly vet his credentials.

"Regardless of Proffitt, the ability to recruit and retain people with solid experience is a real concern," Nobles said. "The situation in St. Peter only heightens the amount of concern. It could be a one-time mistake, we don't know."

Nobles also said he wants to evaluate the cost-effectiveness of SOS and review whether the state should have such a huge role in providing services or consider contracting them out to private providers. Currently, SOS operates about 200 sites.

Paul McEnroe • 612-673-1745

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