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House leader calls for resignations in wake of psychiatric center report

The News Journal - 8/12/2008

House Majority Leader Richard Cathcart has called for the resignations of Vince Meconi, Secretary of the Department of Health and Social Services, and other top Delaware Psychiatric Center officials, in response to an auditor’s report which pointed to possible misappropriation of patient trust accounts by staff at the state hospital.

The Middletown Republican’s announcement came one day after Rep. Gregory F. Lavelle, R-Sharpley, called for Meconi to resign or be fired. Lavelle also wants the U.S. Justice Department to investigate whether money from patient accounts was stolen by psychiatric center staff.

Cathcart, who chaired the House DPC Investigative Committee, also called for the resignations of Renata Henry, director of the Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health, and center Director Husam “Sam” Abdallah, who was hired in January to replace Susan Watson Robinson, after Robinson stepped down to assistant hospital director.

Neither Meconi, Henry nor Abdallah were willing to be interviewed for this story.

“More than a year ago, my committee began investigating the DPC, and what we found was astounding,” Cathcart said. “We found patients had been abused, neglected and intimidated, and to date, nothing has changed in DHSS leadership.”

Cathcart said his announcement was prompted by a report from Delaware Auditor R. Thomas Wagner Jr. about recent mishandling of patient trust accounts.

Wagner’s team of auditors examined 2,531 transactions -- totaling more than $500,000 in fiscal year 2007 -- from 13 patient trust accounts. Half of the transactions reviewed lacked receipts. Recordkeeping at the state hospital was so bad, Wagner said he can't tell if money was stolen.

Three psychiatric center employees quit during the audit, which prompted Lavelle to call on U.S. Attorney Colm Connolly to investigate whether any criminal behavior occurred.

Citing Justice Department policy, Connolly declined to comment. However, all four candidates for governor -- from both parties -- said after the election, Meconi will be looking for work.

“Now, we have more evidence from the state Auditor’s Office that some DPC employees continue to mistreat the patients they are supposed to be taking care of,” Cathcart said. “We’re talking about thousands of dollars in patients’ financial accounts that remain unaccounted for.”

Wagner launched his probe last September after The News Journal chronicled a litany of problems at the facility.

The series resulted in a half-dozen probes, task forces and investigations, including an ongoing civil rights investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Cathcart said it was an “embarrassment” that the only response from Meconi’s spokesman “is that the Auditor’s findings were unsubstantiated.”

“The Secretary and his two top officials continue to pick and choose what benefits them over what benefits the patients and an overwhelming majority of employees,” Cathcart said. “Nothing has improved at the facility and it is business as usual at the DPC. I have no faith in the DHSS and DPC leadership and the public’s trust continues to be violated. It is time for the Governor to remove Secretary Meconi, Ms. Henry and Mr. Abdallah from their duties.”

Gov. Ruth Ann Minner did not return calls seeking comment.

Contact investigative reporter Lee Williams at 324-2362 or lwilliams@delawareonline.com.

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