Therapist takes over mental health department - Interim removed from job title

Peter Livingston is the new Plumas County Mental Health Director.
Debra Moore
Staff Writer

Interim Mental Health Director Peter Livingston is no longer “interim” — the temporary descriptor has been removed from his title.

Livingston, who has worked as a mental health therapist with the Plumas County Mental Health Department for more than a dozen years, was tapped to lead the department following the termination of Mental Health Director Kimball Pier on Sept. 18, and a brief stint by fellow therapist Michael Gunter as the interim chief.

The supervisors removed the word “interim” during their Oct. 15 meeting as a result of contract negotiations with Livingston.

County Counsel Craig Settlemire advised the supervisors that an interim appointment typically is made for a specific time period, usually while a recruitment process is underway.

However, since the supervisors don’t know how they ultimately want to structure the department, they have decided against recruiting a new mental health director until they study the issue further.

Livingston will now serve as an at-will employee and accepts the risk of losing his position if the board decides to reorganize the department and eliminate his position.

“I don’t have a problem dropping the word ‘interim,’ except we wanted to make it clear we are considering restructuring departments,” Supervisor Sherrie Thrall said. “We want to make it clear that we intend to study this.”

Livingston said he knew the board had a larger decision to make, but thought it was an important gesture to bring more stability to the department.

He said that since Pat Leslie had also been an interim selection in the wake of Mental Health Director John Sebold’s retirement during summer 2012, it’s been a couple of years of changing leadership.

“A lot needs to be done in a short time to stabilize the department,” Livingston said.

Supervisor Jon Kennedy said that he had no problem removing the interim moniker since Livingston is doing the work of a mental health director.

“Interim seems ‘interim’ and we want to make it a little more permanent,” Kennedy said.

Human Resources Director Gayla Trumbo said that Livingston had applied for the mental health director position when Kimball Pier was selected, so his name is still on the active recruitment list.

The department also received approval to hire a program chief to oversee the clinicians, and to hire a mental health therapist.


Livingston’s plans

During an interview Oct. 18, Livingston talked about his new role and his plans for the department.

Livingston worked under both longtime director John Sebold, and short-term director Kimball Pier, and when asked how he envisioned running the department, he said it would be somewhere between their two styles.

“I’m a pragmatic idealist,” Livingston said. “I’m driven by ideals, but I’m pragmatic.”

Pier had been driven by ideals, and was lauded by some community leaders for her outreach, which Livingston plans to continue.

But he understands the operational side as well, and what is required organizationally.

Livingston said his primary goal is to serve the needs of the citizens, which he divides into two categories: clients and customers.

Clients are defined as those who receive direct services, while customer refers to the people and organizations who need the services provided by the department, such as schools, law enforcement, local health care providers and the legal system.

To ensure that both clients and customers receive proper care, Livingston said that he must recruit and retain staff.

“We have a great core staff,” Livingston said, “but if we want to have mental health out in the community, we need more help.”

And he also wants to retain his staff and cites noncompetitive wages as a major disadvantage in retention.

In the meantime, Livingston said he feels “positive about the people who are here,” as well as his relationship with the Board of Supervisors.

“I think I can feel things settling down,” Livingston said.

As he looks toward the future, Livingston said that he is “very encouraged.”

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