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Board ousts CEO at Sound Community Services

May 15, 2013
by Dennis Grantham, Editor-in-Chief
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Following a tumultuous six-month period involving two ongoing state investigations, allegations of high-handed management and excessive spending, and a period of high staff turnover, Gail Lawson, the CEO of Sound Community Services (New London, Conn.) was ousted by the agency’s board in mid-April.

Her ouster, along with the apparent ouster of two other agency officers, chief financial officer Cindy Kerchhoff and chief informatics officer Christopher “Heath” Bish, followed publication of an investigative series by a regional newspaper, The Day, that in March disclosed the three had charged some $222,000 in purchases for airplane flights, hotel stays, restaurant meals and various retail items to agency credit cards in an 18-month period. This revelation triggered an investigation by the State Auditor of Public Accounts into agency credit card statements and financials, as well as into the records of an electronic medical records consulting company being run out of the agency by Lawson and Bish.

The agency has been vocal about its work in adopting electronic medical records. In December 2011, Behavioral Healthcare reported that Sound Community Services had received $106,250 in reassigned Medicaid incentive dollars when five of its eligible providers attested to the Adoption/Implementation/or Upgrade of a certified electronic health record (EHR) – Qualifacts CareLogic Enterprise – as part of the federal government's Medicaid EHR Meaningful Use incentives program. In recent years, Sound Community Services has served as one of 16 "customer ambassadors" for the Qualifacts product. Bish was employed by Qualifacts for four years, and previously by HCA, before joining the agency as chief informatics officer in February 2011. 

The state’s Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services has been monitoring Sound Community Services since December 2012 because of client care issues including a lack of medical professionals to prescribe and administer psychiatric medications. This earlier investigation occurred following complaints by consumers and former staff members following the dismissals of key clinical and medical staff in the latter part of 2012.

In its announcement of the agency’s leadership change, the Sound Community Services board announced that the agency is being led by a trio of individuals: Lance Niles, corporate compliance officer; Jessica DeFlumer-Trapp, director of community support programs; and Gino DeMaio, director of housing and residential services. The board also announced the hiring of Stephen Vance, M.D. as the agency's chief medical officer, who previously served as the chief medical officer of the Mendocino Community Mental Health Center in Ukiah, Calif.

With about 700 clients and an annual budget of about $10 million, Sound Community Services is southeastern Connecticut's largest provider of outpatient mental health services for adults.