The Region Ten Community Services Board has been found in violation of Virginia human rights codes for the second time this year, this time by the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health’s state-level Human Rights Committee.
Earlier this month, the State Human Rights Committee decided by unanimous vote that Region Ten terminated the service of a client in retaliation to multiple complaints she’d lodged about her case.
Combined with new findings from the Local Human Rights Committee, Region Ten now faces a total of 12 violations based on the case of Myra Anderson.
In February, the Charlottesville-area Local Human Rights Committee found Region Ten in violation of five statutes related to the treatment of Anderson, a local woman who had sought treatment from Region Ten. Anderson alleged that, in retaliation to complaints she’d made against the mental health services provider from 2006 to 2010, Region Ten terminated her services and developed a behavioral contract for her to sign without her involvement.
“I think, at that point … they said enough was enough, and that it would be easier to get rid of me and close my services down so they wouldn’t have to deal with me,” Anderson said.
When Anderson refused to sign the contract, she was prohibited from receiving any further treatment. For the next six years, she was repeatedly denied service, even after getting a referral from emergency services last October.
After reviewing her case, the Local Human Rights Committee found that Region Ten had violated Anderson’s rights to dignity, services and participation in decision-making and consent.
In total, the committee found five of Anderson’s seven allegations credible, but it did not find in her favor for two allegations: that the behavioral contract and termination of her services were established in direct retaliation to Anderson’s complaints, and that Region Ten violated her rights by failing to acknowledge the receipt of her formal complaint within 10 working days of its filing, as the regulations mandate.
In their original letter of findings, the Local Human Rights Committee said that Region Ten provided documents showing their willingness to restart the process of receiving services for Anderson, and that Anderson refused due to the condition that she sign the behavioral contract. The condition itself was “not considered retaliation,” they wrote. They also found that Anderson’s allegation about the delayed response to her complaint “did not meet the regulatory definition of discrimination.”
Anderson then appealed the local committee’s findings on the last two claims to the state. On May 11, the State Human Rights Committee unanimously voted to overturn the local committee’s findings on those claims.
On the retaliation claim, the state committee found in favor of Anderson for three reasons: the closeness in time between her complaint and her discharge from services, the fact that Region Ten only offered her one meeting date to discuss discharge, and the fact that neither Anderson nor her treatment team was present at that meeting.
On the second appealed claim, the state committee said that, regardless of the violation’s classification as a “complaint of discrimination,” the timeframe for Region Ten’s response to her complaint did not meet regulations.
In addition to the state committee’s findings, the Local Human Rights Committee also has found Region Ten in violation of five new human rights regulations that Anderson submitted in February. Each of those violations — again having to do with Anderson’s dignity and right to services — stems from Anderson’s unsigned behavioral contract.
“That behavioral contract placed limitations on my ability to complain, as well as my ability to access my records, both of which were in violation of the human rights code,” Anderson said.
In light of each committee’s findings, Anderson still is displeased with Region Ten’s handling of her situation, stating that Region Ten has a “serious problem” with anyone who asks too many questions, and that its actions could be troubling for anyone else who needs to seek treatment.
“The problem is — this isn’t like getting disinvited to the local country club,” Anderson said. “I really needed those services and I was denied those services, not based on the fact that I didn’t need them, but based on the fact that they wanted to have more control over the manner in which I made complaints, how I access my records and all of these other things.”
She continued that Executive Director Robert Johnson was not fit to lead Region Ten, given the state committee’s finding that Region Ten retaliated against her. She suggested that Johnson and his upper-level staff either did not have a clear understanding of the human rights code of Virginia, or that they did not feel that its rules and regulations applied to them.
“In either case, it sets a dangerous precedent for all clients receiving services,” Anderson said.
When asked for comment on the matter, Johnson said that department regulations prohibit him from speaking publicly about any particular individual’s case, and that such a rule made it difficult for the “other side of the story” to come out.
Johnson noted that he has seen very few complaints come through the office before, and that they rarely go before the Human Rights Committee. He added that, in his position, it is imperative to “weigh the rights of consumers against the safety of staff.”
“We typically handle issues like this in-house, usually to the satisfaction of all parties,” Johnson said. “We know that it is sometimes hard to please everybody.”
Johnson is set to retire on Sept. 30. Region Ten is currently accepting applications for its next executive director.