This is the second of my two posts about my last summer working with a group of misfits and backstabbing micro-managers at the Mount Vernon Mental Health Clinic (as part of Westchester County Department of Community Mental Health) in ’92. I left off by talking about the decision I faced when the head of the clinic, Dr. Williams, wanted me to write a report that would implicate Johnstone as both an incompetent and capricious office manager. It would’ve been a report that would’ve led to Valerie Johnstone’s firing (see my “Working With Wackos, Part 1” post from last month).
Luckily I had the weekend before my last week at the job to think it through. I approached my task the same way I approached a research project. I interviewed my co-workers — at least in a way without them knowing that I was doing a formal interview — about their problems with Johnstone and about their refusal to learn the new computers and billing system for the office. I documented various incidents that I either experienced or witnessed in which Johnstone was far from professional. I even discussed the overall office dynamics and argued that they were the reason why the clinic had fallen behind twice in the past decade on hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of Medicaid and Medicare billing to New York State.
But I did more than that. I in fact put together two versions of the report. One version was specifically for Dr. Williams, one that could justify the demotion — if not the firing — of Johnstone. The other, much fuller version was one in which I made the case that Dr. Williams and Johnstone were both culpable as they created an unprofessional and chaotic atmosphere at the clinic.
I made the point in the second version that it wasn’t just their violent language and their nasty public and private arguments. Nor was it just their disappearances from the office for hours at a time or showing up hours late looking hung over. Their mercurial natures and their lack of respect for the office and each other had trickled down to the office staff. So much so that some summer office worker like myself had no chance of training staff on how to use a computer or a new billing system.
On my last day at work, Friday, July 31, I handed in version one to Dr. Williams, who was giddy with delight, and gave me a hug and a handshake. I left work early that day, and immediately took the 40 bus up to White Plains, to the main Westchester County Department of Community Mental Health on Post Road. I went to Bob Beane’s office (the department’s director), and dropped off version two of my report. Beane had already left for the weekend. I sneaked in and out that day, as I had worked at this office the summer and holiday season ’90, and I didn’t want questions from my one-time co-workers about why I was there.
The following Friday morning, as I got ready to walk from 616 to the Mount Vernon clinic to pick up my final summer paycheck, the phone rang. It was Beane on the other end of the phone, asking me questions about my report. He asked me how much of what was in it was true. “All of it,” I said. “I need you to come into the office so I ask you some more questions,” Beane said in response. Since I was already about to walk out the door, I hung up and went into my warp-factor-9-walk to find out what was going on (and to get my paycheck without a lot of fuss).
I walked into the equivalent of an emotional tsunami. One of my former co-workers was in tears, while another looked completely stunned. Beane pulled me into Johnstone’s office, and closed the door. I explained what had been going on at the office between Dr. Williams and Johnstone over the previous eight weeks, and likely over the previous three years. Beane paused, then told me what had occurred when he read my report earlier in the week. He decided to fire Dr. Williams, while he demoted Johnstone and moved her to the Yonkers clinic. Beane was in the process of meeting with my former co-workers to verify what was in my report.
After he apprised me, Beane handed me my final paycheck. Then he said, “Thank you. What you did here was very brave and very helpful. But you know you can’t work here again.”
“I know. I knew that when I gave you my report,” I said. Thus ended my career working for Westchester County government.