In resignation letter, outgoing leader of yet-to-open behavioral health crisis center claims county leader is ‘manufacturing’ the facility’s failure

photo by: Kim Callahan/Journal-World

The Treatment and Recovery Center of Douglas County is pictured on Saturday, Oct. 22, 2022.

A resignation letter from the outgoing leader of Douglas County’s troubled behavioral health crisis center project claims that Douglas County Administrator Sarah Plinsky is setting the facility up for failure in a bid to outsource its operations to an out-of-state for-profit company.

The Journal-World obtained a copy of outgoing executive and medical director Dr. George Thompson’s letter, dated Nov. 9. Thompson was originally hired to serve as the Treatment and Recovery Center of Douglas County’s medical director in November of 2021, and agreed to serve as executive director as well in February of 2022. His letter notes that he is resigning his position effective March 9, 2023.

Behavioral Health Partners, the nonprofit formed to guide the center, publicly announced Thompson’s impending departure in a press release dated nearly a week and a half later, Nov. 18. The release cites Thompson’s desire for more time to finish writing a book and to continue speaking and consulting on the importance of psychological and neurobiological safety in organizations as the reason for his stepping down. But Thompson’s four-page resignation letter makes no mention at all of that reason, and instead details a series of interactions with Plinsky that led him to believe that she is convinced the only way the TRC will be successful is if it’s managed and operated by Connections Health Solutions, a for-profit company based in Arizona.

“My concern is that she feels that the only way to bring about that outcome is to set up BHP to fail in its efforts to operate the facility,” Thompson continues in the letter. “I worry that she plans to use that manufactured failure to justify terminating any contract she has with BHP in order to replace BHP with Connections.” 

Plinsky told the Journal-World in an email Monday afternoon that Thompson’s resignation letter does not reflect her work on the TRC during the past year.

“My job is to bring options to the county commissioners,” Plinsky said in her email. “Given BHP’s struggles, it was important to put the Connections option on the table. The ultimate decision will be up to the county commissioners.”

Plinsky’s response to the Journal-World’s request for comment also included a statement from County Commissioner Shannon Reid. Reid’s statement says that Plinsky provided commissioners with a copy of Thompson’s letter immediately after it was received, and said it’s understandable that Thompson “would seek to shift the blame for BHP’s failures to county administration.”

Reid said she continues to have serious concerns about whether BHP can open and operate the TRC successfully, and believes the commission should absolutely consider Connections’ experience in crisis intervention services as a viable option for the community.

“The county commission has not yet made a decision concerning the operator of the TRC and we will continue to evaluate that during public meetings,” Reid said.

The Journal-World did not solicit comment from Reid Monday, and comments from the other two county commissioners, Patrick Kelly and Karen Willey, were not included in Plinsky’s response.

The Journal-World also reached out to Thompson for comment Monday morning, but he hadn’t responded as of 2:30 p.m.

Thompson’s letter paints a significantly different narrative about the ongoing question of who will run the center than what’s previously been shared publicly. For one example, Thompson describes a Sept. 1 meeting with Plinsky, LMH Health CEO Russ Johnson and Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center CEO Patrick Schmitz during which Plinsky informed the group she intended to recommend to the Douglas County Commission that it sign an agreement with Connections to manage and operate the TRC.

The timing and content of that meeting is corroborated in documents obtained by the Journal-World from LMH Health in mid-October. At that time, Plinsky also confirmed that the county had been engaged in ongoing discussion with Connections and that the company has been a consultant for the county since March of 2019.

Two weeks later on Sept. 15, Thompson claims Plinsky presented BHP’s board of directors with a document outlining the timeline and deliverables for opening the center a couple weeks later. He said some statements in that document led him to believe the county was preparing to assume operations of the TRC itself, such as that the “county will explore being license holder (of the private psychiatric hospital license)” and that the “county will explore being the holder of all payor contracts.”

During that same meeting, Thompson claims that Plinsky stated that BHP had presented a budget in which expenses exceed revenue by $434,000. Thompson claims that statement was true in isolation, but also that Plinsky omitted that the county itself had requested that BHP submit a budget in which expenses exceed revenue to show the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services that there was a need for additional funding support to operate the TRC.

Plinsky told the Journal-World in an email response to a request for comment Monday afternoon that this instance was not accurate.

The Journal-World also contacted BHP’s board chair, Cindy Yulich, for comment about this allegation and others Monday, but had yet to receive a response as of 2:30 p.m.

Thompson’s letter details yet another meeting involving himself and Plinsky, plus BHP board member Nancy Thellman and the county’s director of behavioral health projects, Bob Tryanski, on Oct. 28. During that meeting, Thompson claims Plinsky voiced her intent to sign a six-month operating agreement with BHP, which he said was not nearly enough time for BHP to demonstrate its efficacy. Thompson also claims that Plinsky, in describing the requirements she’d put into place for the six-month contract, said they “will be a heavy lift, and I have no confidence that you can do it.”

“This statement is consistent with a strategy to create circumstances under which BHP is unable to operate the TRC successfully and to use that manufactured failure to justify bringing in Connections to operate the TRC,” Thompson’s letter reads.

Plinsky told the Journal-World Monday the interaction at the Oct. 28 meeting is also not accurate, but didn’t go into detail about what the conversation was like from her perspective.

According to Thompson’s claim in the resignation letter, Plinsky’s response to Thompson’s observation that she was “contracting for failure instead of success” was that this was the best she could do. Thompson contends in his letter that this approach ignores his body of knowledge and experience is suitable enough to assess BHP’s own readiness to operate. Thompson said the county’s approach also ignores that under his leadership, the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services granted BHP a license to operate as a private psychiatric hospital and initiated a $3.1 million funding disbursement to the TRC. Thompson also notes that his team has written 135 policies and hired and trained more than 40 staff members in the past eight months.

“When the county misrepresents my actions, by commission or omission, they undermine my leadership and damage my reputation, obstructing my ability to build trust with the community,” Thompson’s letter reads. “They also sabotage my ability to direct the medical operations with confidence. Because, in my assessment, the county is committed to proving we are not capable of doing work in the TRC, I must conclude that there is a significant chance they will continue to misrepresent facts to prove their case.”

Thompson’s letter stated Thellman, a former county commissioner, also was present for that Oct. 28 meeting. The Journal-World contacted Thellman and asked her if Thompson’s description of the meeting was accurate. Thellman said she did not want to comment on the details of the meeting, but said she and other board members were busy preparing a presentation for county commissioners that is scheduled for the Dec. 14 meeting.

“So, I’m not at this point going to make any further comments,” Thellman said in a brief interview. “I’m working on the meeting for the 14th, but I understand the interest in that letter. We are working. We are moving forward and doing what we can to get the facility open, and working with the county and everybody else.”

Thompson’s letter also claims that there’s a conflict of interest if Connections is contracted to operate the TRC, given that the county has allegedly asked Connections to evaluate BHP’s readiness to operate the facility itself. In addition to the county’s consulting relationship with Connections, Thompson said in the letter he has been participating in weekly Zoom consultation meetings with Connections co-founder Dr. Robert Williamson for many months.

Thompson claims Williamson has indicated for a number of months now that despite some initial worries about the center’s structure, BHP has been making satisfactory progress in addressing those concerns. Thompson asserts that Williamson has repeatedly urged that he “just get the county to let you open the facility, and you will show them that you are able to take care of patients.”

“Finally, Connections operating the facility is counter to what I understand the intention of this facility to be — operated by local people working for a nonprofit facility rather than an out-of-state for-profit venture,” Thompson’s letter continues. “It has been explained to me that Connections will keep any profit they generate from operating this facility, rather than reinvesting the profit in the community as BHP would.”

— Editor Chad Lawhorn contributed to this report.


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