- The Washington Times - Friday, June 14, 2002

The D.C. Department of Mental Health has not returned $1 million to the relatives of deceased patients and has mismanaged the accounts and care of hundreds of others, according to a report to be released today by the inspector general.
The report documents the mismanagement of 3,000 patient accounts in the mental health department during the past two years.
About 600 accounts have accumulated a total of more than $1 million in 30 years because of inadequate procedures for notifying relatives of patients' deaths, the report states. The mental health department has also maintained 900 accounts totaling $250,000 for patients no longer in its care.
"Nearly 1,000 accounts had balances of less than $10, and numerous others had less than $1 and should be closed out," D.C. Inspector General Charles C. Maddox says in the report, which was obtained by The Washington Times.
Mr. Maddox's audit of the agency's patient accounts found that the agency provided irresponsible care for several patients with addictive disorders and who were known to be incompetent in managing their money.
"We found several instances where patients were given large sums of cash that ultimately were used to buy drugs and alcohol," Mr. Maddox says in the report, which notes that some of these patients were arrested for drug- and alcohol-related offenses when they should have been in the care of a case manager.
Martha B. Knisley, director of the mental health department, asked the inspector general in August to audit her agency's patient accounts, which emerged from federal receivership May 15.
Mrs. Knisley, who took charge of the department in April 2001, said the purpose of the report is to identify any problems in the agency that may have been missed by herself or her staff.
"I was most interested in if we missed something in our review, but the IG mostly confirmed what we already knew," Mrs. Knisley said.
She blamed lax record-keeping, the lack of a reliable information-management system and poor training for employees.
The Department of Mental Health, which has a budget of $227 million this year, has long been one of the most poorly run agencies in the District. It regulates the city's mental health system and provides services through the Community Service Agency and St. Elizabeths Hospital.
D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams identified the mental health department as one of three agencies that wastes the city's budget. He has vowed to clean up the agency but has repeatedly said that will "take time."
Mrs. Knisley said the mayor asked Mr. Maddox to conduct a general audit of the agency from January 2000 to last September. During budget negotiations this year, Mr. Williams fought to increase the agency's budget to help its new director address widespread and long-standing problems.
"DMH is the last agency to come back home, and we are tremendously impressed with Mrs. Knisley's progress," said Tony Bullock, spokesman for Mr. Williams.
Mrs. Knisley said her staff has rewritten every job description so that all employees, including those with alcohol- and drug-addicted patients, will know exactly what their responsibilities are. "We have made it clear to our managers that they are accountable, and some have already been disciplined," she said, without elaborating.
Inactive patient accounts with little money in them will be closed, and the money will be considered unclaimed property, she said.
The mental health department has already received and trained workers on its new information system, she said. "When you have this, you can actually manage for the first time," Mrs. Knisley said.
In addition, the agency will submit monthly financial reports on patient accounts to the mayor's office, she said.
For the past three months, the mental health department has been working with the Social Security Administration to locate and identify relatives who are owed money.
"We want to make sure deceased consumers' finances are fully explained to their loved ones. Any funds that remain in their accounts will be transferred quickly to the survivors or their representatives," Mrs. Knisley said.
To inquire about an individual's account, relatives should call the Office of Finance and Information Systems at 202/645-7370 on weekdays between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m., or send an e-mail to [email protected]

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