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County terminates contract with mental health chief

Debra Moore
Staff Writer
9/27/2013

 

The Plumas County Board of Supervisors terminated its contract with Mental Health Director Kimball Pier following a closed session Sept. 18.

Pier, who served in the position since Jan. 22 of this year, was let go “without cause.”

During an interview the day following her termination, Pier said that she was not invited into the closed session, but knew when Board Chairman Terry Swofford and Human Resources Director Gayla Trumbo came out of the boardroom and invited her into a conference room, that the news would not be good.

She said that she was told the board “voted to terminate her contract immediately.”

The action, as reported in the official minutes, reads, “The Board of Supervisors has voted to give a thirty day notice to terminate the employment agreement with Kimball Pier, without cause, and to buy-out the thirty day notice period as provided in the employment agreement effective at 5:00 p.m. on September 18, 2013,” by a unanimous roll call vote.

When asked why she was terminated, Pier responded, “I can hypothesize, but I don’t know exactly.”

Since she wasn’t allowed to speak to the supervisors during the closed session that decided her fate, Pier sent a letter to the board and Trumbo the following day. (A version of that letter is printed as a Where I Stand in the Regional section of this newspaper. The letter she sent to the supervisors contained specific personnel information that is confidential, so it could not be printed as originally written.)

The letter sheds some light on the relationship between Pier and the supervisors, and her belief that she wasn’t supported in her role.

“I’m not the typical administrator,” she said during the interview, and reiterated that she was actually surprised when they hired her — a topic she addresses in the letter.

In the hours after her termination, both supervisors Lori Simpson and Sherrie Thrall said they couldn’t discuss particulars of their decision, but said terminating employees was one of the most difficult parts of their job.

Likewise, Supervisor Jon Kennedy said he couldn’t comment on why she was terminated, but when asked separately about rumors regarding the mental health department and last week’s teen suicide, Kennedy acknowledged that he had heard the same rumor.

“I’m not sure what transpired,” Kennedy said of the rumor that the teen had visited the mental health department Friday, Sept. 13, five days before she committed suicide.

But Kennedy did say that if it were true, “I certainly hate that the community did what it was supposed to do — the students and school bringing it to light — and then the health care providers dropped the ball.”

After Kennedy commented for this story, it was confirmed that the teen had visited the county’s mental health department on Sept. 13 and was scheduled for a return appointment Sept. 18 at 4:30 p.m. She died at approximately 3:45 p.m. (The family has expressed concern about their interaction with that department, which will be addressed in next week’s newspaper).

Since the supervisors are unable to speak about a personnel issue, there can only be speculation about factors that could have contributed to the dismissal.

Recently, Pier and her department came under scrutiny for allegedly dumping a patient in Las Vegas. Due to HIPAA (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act), no one can divulge details about the incident.

Pier’s transition as the new director, replacing interim Mental Health Director Pat Leslie, was not a smooth one.

“As with any big change, there are some people who weren’t very happy,” Pier said during an interview.

She also ran afoul of the supervisors when she hired an employee at a higher pay grade than is allowed, and then sought retroactive approval.

 

Began well

During Pier’s first months on the job she was repeatedly lauded for the changes she brought to the department and the supervisors complimented her on providing more services.

Sheriff Greg Hagwood was one who publicly complimented Pier for her work with his department and in the jail.

“For the 25 years I’ve been here, it’s been one exercise after another of complete frustration,” Hagwood said. “But it was such a complete 180 when Kimball arrived.”

Hagwood said this has been the first time that he could provide mental health services in the jail. Prior to her tenure, inmates had to be transported to the mental health department.

“There has been such an incredible improvement in mental health services,” he said.

With Pier no longer the chief at mental health, Hagwood is worried. “My fear is that we will see a backwards slide and that is a huge, huge concern.”

 

Who’s in charge now?

When asked who would be in charge of mental health, Human Resources Director Gayla Trumbo said, “Since it wasn’t agendized, the board couldn’t make an

appointment, so then it goes down the chain of command.”

Trumbo said that she and Swofford went to the mental health department last Thursday to inform Michael Gunter, who is the department’s interim program chief, that he would assume the interim role of mental health director.

The supervisors are scheduled to discuss the position during their Oct. 1 board meeting.

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