Former Minn. Security Hospital leader's 'extremely assertive' style rankled some

Hospital administrator
After taking over as the Minnesota Security Hospital administrator this fall, David Proffitt was scrutinized for patient treatment and the workplace environment at the hospital.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

David Proffitt, the controversial former administrator of the state's largest facility for the mentally ill and dangerous, agreed to resign yesterday after an investigation found he made comments that staff found inappropriate and threatening.

If Proffitt had refused to resign from his position at the Minnesota Security Hospital, he would have been fired, said Department of Human Services deputy commissioner Anne Barry. She met with Proffitt to ask for his resignation yesterday.

"David is an extremely assertive, very urgent, very maybe impatient person who has a lot of passion," Barry said. "And that passion was perceived by some to be threatening."

DHS hired Proffitt seven months ago to help turn around the troubled Minnesota Security Hospital, which provides treatment for nearly 400 people deemed mentally ill and dangerous. He vowed to reduce the use of restraints and seclusion, but employees said his abrasive management style left the St. Peter facility in chaos. Employees told MPR News that Proffitt never clearly said how they should reduce the use of restraints and seclusion and what types of interventions they should use instead when patients become violent.

Concern about Proffitt's management style led to the departure of the facility's top psychiatry staff earlier this year. And complaints from the psychiatrists led DHS Commissioner Lucinda Jesson to ask a private Minneapolis law firm to investigate whether Proffitt created a hostile work environment. A report detailing the investigation's findings was released Tuesday.

Minnesota Security Hospital
Download the full DHS Investigation Report
David Proffitt resigns at state's request
Data: Violence, restraints common at facility

The report said Proffitt's behavior did not meet the legal definition of a hostile work environment, but it did find Proffitt dismissed employee concerns, interrupted staff at meetings, made statements that were perceived to be threatening, and inappropriately joked about workers.

Anne Barry
Anne Barry, Deputy commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Human Services.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

Among the report's findings:

• "Mr. Proffitt's intensity is not always productive, and sometimes causes him to handle situations poorly."

• "Proffitt made employees feel threatened and uncomfortable when he discussed how loyalty would be rewarded."

• "Mr. Proffitt admitted that he asked several individuals whether the psychiatrists who had resigned could be reported to the medical board for abandoning their patients. While he started that this was intended to protect the facility, it clearly contained an implied threat."

The investigation also found two instances in which Proffitt made comments that staff considered inappropriate.

Proffitt once told staff that the counselors who provide direct care to patients were hired based on the size of their necks, the report said.

At a separate meeting, Proffitt used a questionable personal example to show employees how a person's goals can change. According to the report, Proffitt told a group of nurses that when he was in college, he decided to help disabled children swim, in part because he realized he would be able to look at women in swimsuits. That decision, he said, led him to discover a passion for rehabilitation work and patient care.

The report found that comment was not inappropriate, but Barry, the DHS deputy commissioner, said it raised questions within the agency about Proffitt's judgment.

Minnesota Sex Offender Program
The Minnesota Security Hospital in St. Peter, Minn., has had its license placed on conditional probation for two years after two incidents of patients being mistreated.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

"I don't think we generally talk about people in bathing suits inside the agency, nor do we talk about that in a therapeutic environment either," she said. "It's hard to imagine in what context that would be appropriate."

Proffitt declined to comment on the investigation or discuss his resignation in any detail, but he praised the work of the agency, and its "value to the citizens of the state of Minnesota."

"I'm not going to be a part of that in the future, and I feel bad about that, but I really support the work they do," he said.

The news of Proffitt's resignation was met with relief by some employees.

"His tenure there has been marked with controversy from day one, and I'm not really surprised that they decided that it had to come to an end," said Chuck Carlson, a security counselor at the facility who also serves as the president of AFSCME Local 404, which represents the employees who provide direct care to patients.

The Department of Human Services has already hired a new administrator to run the facility. Carol Olson, who previously led two smaller state behavioral health hospitals in Rochester and St. Peter, will begin serving as the Minnesota Security Hospital administrator immediately, DHS officials said.

Carlson, the local union president, said he thinks Olson is the right person for the job. He said she knows many of the employees already from her long career with the state and had a good relationship with the facility.

Barry, of DHS, said Proffitt will stay on as a temporary consultant for up to three months during the transition period.

Proffitt previously served as the head of Acadia Hospital in Bangor, Maine. He resigned from that position in April 2011, after an OSHA investigation found the facility failed to protect workers from violent patients.

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