We’re in the middle of a mental health crisis in America, and one of the only mental health hospitals in Terre Haute available to residents on Medicaid is being run by individuals who are overpaid and drastically under qualified to be in their positions. Over the past twenty years suicide rates have increased by over 35% and have become the second leading cause of death for people aged 10-34 years old. Many have looked to Community Mental Health legislation, initiated in the 1960’s, as a contributing factor to this crisis. Before the Community Mental Health Act of 1963 individuals suffering from mental health issues were often locked away in state asylums, but the legislation meant to fix the problems has had several unintended consequences.
As state asylums started to close many communities were faced with handling a situation that they were not capable of funding. However, Terre Haute suffers from a different problem, our designated community mental health center (Hamilton Center), receives adequate funding, but has continually shifted larger percentages of revenue to administrative salaries, while program salaries fall further and further behind. Non-profit tax filings show that over the past ten years salary expenses have grown by 11 million dollars, $17 million in 2015 to $28 million in 2021, while operating expenses have only increased slightly, from $4.5 million in 2015 to $5.4 million in 2021. At the same time, program salary expenses only increased by 30% while management salary expenses increased by over 160%.
That gap in salary expense might possibly be justified if the Hamilton Center was hiring a larger number of managers with greater qualifications, like education and experience in their respective fields, but unfortunately that is not the case. Over the past few years several top executives have resigned their positions including the Chief Medical Officer, Chief of Quality and Compliance, Chief Financial Officer, Chief of Human Resources, and Chief of Addiction. While some of the individuals hired to replace these executives are simply unqualified or underqualified, the hiring of a man named Art Fuller to replace the former Chief of Human Resources is nearly unexplainable. Art had been fired from his position as CEO of a charter school in Tennessee after a series of shockingly unethical actions were discovered.
Board members at Knowledge Academies discovered that Fuller had been running a side business out of one of the organization’s school buildings while at the same time they were running large deficits, suffering from teacher shortages, and hiring substitute teachers without the qualifications necessary for their roles. Sound familiar? I recently reported on Hamilton Center CEO Mel Burk’s salary, and while some were shocked, it is not out of the range of highly qualified and highly successful leaders of large mental health institutions, but Mel is arguably neither of those things. You might think to yourself, how could the Hamilton Center’s board be allowing these things to happen, but what you will quickly see is that the Center’s board, like many other local boards, is made up of the same group of special interest insiders.