Mental Health Commissioner Patrick Flood’s departure lamented

Vermont Mental Health Commissioner Patrick Flood

Health care professionals across the state view Patrick Flood, commissioner of the Department of Mental Health, as the glue that holds the state’s mental health system overhaul together.

After Tropical Storm Irene rendered the state psychiatric hospital unusable, he spearheaded a major revamping of Vermont’s mental health facilities and standards to focus more on a regionalized, community-based approach to providing care.

When he announced last week that he was stepping down as commissioner in the midst of this major transition, he caught just about everyone off guard, including his interim successor Mary Moulton and state Rep. Anne Donahue, co-chair of the Joint Mental Health Oversight Committee.

“I do not know what happened with Patrick Flood, but the staff there did not know he was leaving,” said Donahue. “This was an extraordinarily abrupt and very unfortunate departure because they are going to be under huge, huge pressure now.”

Flood, who doesn’t have a clinical background in mental health, said that he never intended to hold the position for a long period. He said that Moulton, who has more experience in the mental health field, is better fit to carry out the role of interim commissioner until a long-term replacement is found. Moulton has agreed to run the department until July 2013 at the latest, and then she plans to return to Washington Mental Health Services Inc., where she was chief of operations.

According to Flood and Gov. Peter Shumlin, the current commissioner chose to leave of his own volition. He didn’t tell his staff about his departure before telling Shumlin because he said that would have been unprofessional.

“I think there’s a protocol for these kinds of things,” he said. “I’m not the one to talk about these things ahead of time. I didn’t see any point in advertising ahead of time.”

Donahue was indignant that Flood would leave in the middle of the mental health system overhaul.

“For somebody to take on something and then very abruptly leave at a point where the system you’re setting up is still really in the air just doesn’t seem really fair to the commitment you took on,“ she said

Shap Smith and Patrick Flood

Mental Health Commissioner Patrick Flood, standing in front, and House Speaker Shap Smith along with about 100 others listen to comments during a hearing about a proposed temporary mental health facility in Morrisville in February. File Photo by Andrew Nemethy

Flood maintained that his decision is in the best interest of the state’s mental health system.

“I know how to work in the Legislature, and I know how to fix a budget. I know how to run a department. I know how to do a lot of things that needed to be done, and I was happy to do them,” he said. “But with every passing day it just becomes clearer to me that there are policy issues that need to be talked about and individual patient circumstances that need to be talked about, and I just don’t feel like I have the right background to be the decision maker in all of those cases.”

Flood said that he felt hampered by his lack of clinical experience in the mental health field, but Moulton touted his other talents and his clinical background as a nurse.

“Patrick had a great clinical sense,” she said.” I think that someone who knows the mental health system really well is crucial and while it doesn’t hurt to have a clinical background in mental health, it isn’t essential … (The commissioner must) look at what helps people recover and what helps them get well, and I think he did that very well and downplays how well he did it.”

To replace Flood, said Moulton, the department will have to pull together.

“He is a great leader,” she said. “He has a body of knowledge about state government that not many of us hold, and he was instrumental in leading the charge on the new things we’re working on. He’ll be sorely missed, and it’ll take our entire team to replace what he knew.”

Flood plans to leave the department by the end of December.

Since the Dean administration Flood has been a political appointee, and he said he’s thinking about returning to classified service.

To replace Flood, the administration is launching a nationwide search. Moulton said that the next commissioner must be also community-minded.

“We need to find a person that will really include all voices across all of our stakeholder groups: from peers to advocates to patients to hospital personnel,” she said. “We need to continue to include everyone in the conversation. Patrick did that, and I’ll do that.”

Andrew Stein

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  • George Plumb

    Patrick seems like a great man! I don’t know him well but I was so impressed that this high level state employee would join some of us in planning how to respond to global heating. No one else of that level or higher ever joined us.
    Thanks much Patrick and best wishes to you whatever you decide to do next.

  • Amanda Preston

    I’m not sure what will be missed. When Hurricane Irene hit, Commissioner Flood was down in Washington DC protesting global warming with Hollywood celebrities like Darryl Hannah. He knew full well about the quality of care issues at The Brattleboro Retreat, including the death of a 29 year old man last winter, yet still worked closely with Retreat CEO Rob Simpson to ensure FEMA monies from the flooded state mental hospital found their way to The Brattleboro Retreat even though the feds had not yet cut the check. The amount of state taxpayer dollars flowing to the retreat in the wake of the flooding of the Vermont State Mental Hospital are extensive. They flow freely with little attention paid to the fact that the Retreat came very close to losing it’s eligibility to receive Medicare due to the death of that poor young man and other quality of care issues CMS found upon it’s inspection. Patrick Flood is getting out of the kitchen because he can’t stand the heat. Let’s hope he made plenty of friends from Hollywood at that global warming rally so he has a few free couches to crash on while investigations on the Retreat surrounding the current union negotiations continue….Patrick, if you are reading this, you could have served us better. I am looking forward to Ms. Moulton taking over his position. Unlike Mr. Flood, Ms. Moulton has ACTUAL CLINICAL EXPERIENCE working in the field of Mental Health. In this job market, one would think that would be a pre-requisite to holding a job with a title such as “Commissioner of Mental Health.” Here’s to better times ahead for folks receiving mental health services in the state of Vermont.

  • julie tessler

    Patrick Flood did an outstanding job as the Commissioner of Mental Health. He made sure that the system of care found a path to get through the crisis caused by the sudden closure of Vermon State Hospital and quickly put those plans into action. His skill at working with diverse parties, with an emphasis on input from peers, has been inspirirng and has led to a balanced approach to mental health care. We applaud his leadership, commitment and tremendous effort. One of Patrick’s skills is picking effective people to work with him, including his deputy Mary Moulton. She has excellent skills and expertise and will due a fine job taking over the reins.

    Julie Tessler
    Executive Director
    Vermont Council of Developmental and Mental Health Services

  • Amanda Preston

    Patrick Flood has been a political appointee since the Dean administration. A commentator on a different posting on VT Digger related to Flood and his appointment of Commissioner of Mental Health cite his education, experience and background. It is my understanding that Patrick Flood received educational training to be an LPN, nothing more, nothing less. I hardly think that qualifies him to hold any high level appointed political office. However, he has done just that for decades. It is these decades that Vermont state tax payers have PAID HIS SALARY, likely a salary above the median Vermont wage earner’s salary. Likely one considerably above the average LPN salary. Is he skillful as an administrator and a bureaucrat? All accounts point to, “yes.” However, let us closely examine the responsibilities of a Commissioner of Mental Health. When a patient is involuntarily committed to the state, they are no longer in their own custody. They are in the custody of the Commissioner of Mental Health. That this commissioner is an LPN with NO CLINICAL EXPERIENCE AT ALL WHATSOEVER in the field of mental health is an insult to members of this vulnerable population and a breach of their rights as individuals. So long, farewell, and good riddance to Flood. Given his ties to previous Democratic institutions, he should have NO PROBLEM AT ALL WHATSOEVER securing a similar bureaucratic role in government, ngos or the non-profit community. However, for whom it matters, let the record show that Flood WAS POORLY QUALIFIED to serve the office to which he was appointed. In the office he MADE POOR CHOICES THAT DID NOT SERVE VULNERABLE POPULATIONS OR VERMONT STATE TAXPAYERS WELL, some of whom were/are in his own custody. That is the record that Patrick Flood set for the mental health community vis a vis his relationship to Brattleboro Retreat CEO Rob Simpson and his role in the Shumlin administration. Despite current contract negotiations, I understand The Brattleboro Retreat currently has a number of nursing positions open. Given the positive relationship Flood has with Retreat CEO Rob Simpson, perhaps he will consider applying for one of the openings. My guess is he’d be a shoe in.

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