Healthy Outlook: Bert Nash CEO hopes to contract company for staff survey

photo by: Journal-World File Photos

Shown in the file photo at left, from January 2018, is a brightly colored bench and mural at the second-floor entrance — where administrative offices and services for children and families are housed — at Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center, 200 Maine St. At right is Bert Nash CEO Patrick Schmitz.

The leader of Lawrence’s community mental health center would like to bring in a company to conduct an external evaluation or survey of staff.

Amid some elevated concerns about public perception after seven specialized therapists resigned en masse, Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center CEO Patrick Schmitz said he has approval from the governing board’s president, Brad Burnside, to move forward in the process.

Schmitz said he would seek out a company that has experience in doing external evaluations. Although the nonprofit center doesn’t have to go through a request-for-proposals process the way a fully publicly funded entity would, the move will still need to be approved by the center’s board.

“I’ve already started to reach out to some companies just to start setting up some phone calls to get that information and see what it would take to get them to come on in and do that for us,” Schmitz said Saturday morning.

It is very early in the process, and Schmitz doesn’t yet know a timeline or the cost. He does hope to present some more concrete ideas to the board at its next meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 28.

Schmitz said he made an announcement to staff about the external evaluation in a town hall-style meeting on Friday. He estimated about 50 to 75 staff members were in attendance, and he said the overall response was positive. Staff also discussed how the transition has gone since Wednesday — the final day for the seven departing therapists.

“The mood seems really good. Not that we still don’t have work, obviously — we know we do,” he said. “But the mood felt really good in the room. There was a lot of really good sharing of ideas and questions, even hard questions, and so it just felt like we’re moving in the right direction.”

The center’s employee advocacy committee has been working on a separate survey. It’s a recurring anonymous survey developed and managed by employees.

Schmitz said the last one was completed several months before he came to the center in June of 2017, and that committee has recommended another one. He said he plans next week to discuss with the person in charge of that process whether and how that survey will move forward.

The external company, however, will put the center’s employees and Schmitz himself on the outside, he said. The company will help develop “the survey, the assessment or whatever they’re going to call it,” he said, but he is going to lean on their experience in formatting and gauging responses.

He doesn’t have any specific concerns in mind that he would like to see addressed — “I’m going to leave it wide open,” he said.

“Obviously we’ll share with them some of the things that have gone on recently and some of the concerns presented to us by staff and clients, that kind of stuff,” Schmitz said. “Whatever we can provide to them, whatever it is they ask for, we’ll give it to them so they can come in with their eyes wide open and begin to formulate an approach that they would recommend.”

He said the company would help determine the format and send out the survey in whatever format they decide — perhaps via email or a webpage.

“(The company will) collect the data; they’ll generate a report back to us,” he said. “So we won’t be handling any of that part of it.”

Schmitz said until there is a contract in place with a particular company, he won’t know how much, if any, of the external survey’s results will be shared publicly.

• • •

Addressing a few concerns

Several current and former employees of the center reached out to the Journal-World to share information and concerns after the newspaper initially reported about the seven therapists leaving the center. None of them were comfortable publicly sharing their identities, but what they provided did merit a discussion with the center’s leader about staffing and morale.

Schmitz offered some insight on those subjects in a phone interview last week, prior to sharing the latest news of the external survey. As a reminder, Schmitz can’t discuss specific clients or personnel with the Journal-World for confidentiality and privacy reasons.

The nature of a CMHC

Community mental health centers tend to see substantial turnover in practitioners.

As the Journal-World previously reported, for instance, Bert Nash patient Kevin Elliott shared that he has seen four different individual therapists — now transitioning to his fifth — and dealt with several other personnel changes on his care team in less than two years under the center’s care.

Schmitz said it’s part of the nature of CMHCs. New professionals and those in transition tend to work at the centers as they gain experience and get established.

“Because we are often that training ground for professionals who then go on to other jobs that may pay them more or give them different opportunities, that is a reality,” Schmitz said. “I’ve been in this business going on 29 years, most of that within CMHCs, and that is historically one of our functions. … There tends to be that in-and-out of professionals, which is an unfortunate thing for the clients, and we absolutely recognize that.”

Schmitz said when that turnover occurs at the center, “we try our absolute best to minimize the impact” on patients.

Still, the pattern of turnover complicates things for the many clientele who depend on their mental health practitioners as a major source of stability in their lives.

“I’ve had two psychiatric hospitalizations in the last year and a half, and I’m scared to death because I’m going through a transition at a very rough time and have no idea if I will have support available or not, or how much support I will have,” said Elliott, 53, whose therapist was one of the seven whose last day at the center was Wednesday. “I’m scared to death. I really am. You know, I’m trying real hard to work the program and not break down. But I feel my major source of support is crumbling underneath me.”

Chain of command

The center has policies in place to address employee concerns when they do arise.

Schmitz said in general, the goal is to address issues at the lowest level possible, by those directly dealing with them. He said he also encourages supervisors to hold one-on-one meetings with staff members regularly so that concerns can be discussed in private as needed.

In cases where that isn’t possible, he said the next step would be to go to Human Resources. Asked hypothetically what employees should do if that department were the concern, he said “probably the next step would be to reach out to the COO or to me.”

“We’re open to the feedback. We’re open to the employees. We’re open to people giving us a call,” he said. “I get if they get a little frustrated, but if they’re telling (the Journal-World) something, then I would hope that they could come and tell me that as well.”

Related coverage

• Aug. 19, 2018: Healthy Outlook: Bert Nash CEO hopes to contract company for staff survey

• Aug. 18, 2018: Website for new DBT Center goes live, lists locations

• Aug. 9, 2018: Several therapists who are leaving Bert Nash will open own practice

• July 29, 2018: Healthy Outlook: After 7 specialized therapists resign, what options do their Bert Nash patients have?

• July 25, 2018: Many specialized therapists simultaneously resign from Bert Nash

About Healthy Outlook

Healthy Outlook is a column written by Journal-World reporter and Health section editor Mackenzie Clark, in hopes of helping readers make their lives a little bit happier, healthier and more active.

Have questions about the world of health and wellness in Lawrence, or a health story idea? Contact Mackenzie:

Read more:


Welcome to the new Our old commenting system has been replaced with Facebook Comments. There is no longer a separate username and password login step. If you are already signed into Facebook within your browser, you will be able to comment. If you do not have a Facebook account and do not wish to create one, you will not be able to comment on stories.