Former Acadia Hospital head takes lead of Minn. security hospital

David Proffitt, Former CEO of Acadia Hospital. Photographed Friday morning, Sept. 10, 2010.
David Proffitt, Former CEO of Acadia Hospital. Photographed Friday morning, Sept. 10, 2010.
Posted Sept. 09, 2011, at 7:43 p.m.
Last modified Sept. 11, 2011, at 7:30 p.m.

MINNEAPOLIS — David Proffitt, the former CEO of The Acadia Hospital in Bangor, has assumed the leadership of a Minnesota hospital for especially hard-to-control mental patients. Proffitt resigned from Acadia earlier this year after a federal investigation cited the 100-bed psychiatric hospital for workplace safety violations related to an employee-reported increase in the frequency and severity of patient attacks against hospital staff.

Proffitt assumed his duties Thursday at the Minnesota Security Hospital in St. Peter. The Star Tribune reported Friday that he replaced a man who was removed in April for some of the same safety issues that marred Proffitt’s record at The Acadia Hospital. A state report last year cited chronic dysfunction at St. Peter, contending that the facility lacked accountability, employees feared for their safety, and unstable patients too often were restrained or isolated because of inadequate staff training.

Maureen O’Connell, the Minnesota assistant commissioner of human services, stood by her decision to hire Proffitt. She told The Associated Press on Friday that Proffitt went through an extensive series of interviews and reference checks that convinced her that he was the best choice. She said she was satisfied with his answers about what happened at Acadia and that he had learned from the experience.

Proffitt resigned in April as president and CEO of Acadia, a private nonprofit acute care psychiatric hospital. In January, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration fined the hospital $11,700 for failing to provide a safe workplace for its employees. OSHA found that from 2008 through 2011, violent patients had assaulted staff members at least 115 times. The agency began the investigation after employees complained that Proffitt’s efforts to eliminate the use of restraints had led to a sharp increase in worker injuries.

Proffitt also had been criticized widely in the media for an autocratic leadership style that allegedly undermined employee morale as well as patient care at The Acadia Hospital, which formerly had been recognized as a high-performing “magnet” hospital by a leading nursing organization. He also was criticized for holding a dubious doctorate from a now-defunct online diploma-mill.

OSHA’s report did not mention Acadia’s restraints policy, and the hospital issued a statement at the time saying an OSHA compliance officer specifically told hospital officials their restraint policy “was not related to staff injuries or assaults.”

Proffitt said some press reports have inaccurately described practices there as a “no restraints” policy. He told the AP he always allowed restraints in limited circumstances at both hospitals he led in Maine, and that Acadia’s policy was similar to St. Peter’s, albeit not as long. He said he’ll never prohibit all use of restraints, but will keep working to reduce the need for them.

The Minnesota Security Hospital’s 11-page policy says restraints and seclusion may be imposed on patients only “to ensure the immediate physical safety of the patient, a staff member or others and must be discontinued at the earliest possible time.” It says the facility is committed to “prevent, reduce and strive to eliminate the use of restraint and seclusion” while preserving patients’ safety and dignity.

O’Connell said psychiatric hospitals across the nation have been struggling with the issue, but the trend has been to minimize the use of restraints and seclusion on out-of-control patients.

“It is something that we constantly are monitoring, and we are constantly trying to strike the right balance,” she said.

Restraining patients breaks down the trust that they need to have in their therapists for their treatment to succeed, Proffitt said.

“It’s a scary thing, and being scared doesn’t typically help people respond well to your assistance,” he said.

The Star Tribune also first reported Friday that O’Connell did not tell her superior, Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson, about Proffitt’s problems in Maine before hiring him.

O’Connell confirmed that. She said she had been under the impression that Jesson knew, and that she made a mistake by not making sure of it. But she also said that while Jesson met with some of the candidates, she was not formally part of the hiring process.

Proffitt said he hasn’t been at St. Peter long enough to say whether it still needs to be turned around. But he said his superiors have made it very clear they want a high-quality, safe and effective care environment. He said the staff and union leaders he has met in his short time there are dedicated public servants who want to see improvements.

“I really am excited to be here,” he said.

BDN writer Meg Haskell contributed to this report.

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