OC struggles to find a mental health director who is qualified and wants the job


Orange County has struggled to get qualified people to apply for the post of director of mental health and has now extended the application period in hopes of attracting more applicants.

The difficulties in filling the post of deputy director – who oversees 1,000 employees – are linked to concerns about the functioning of the health care agency, according to people close to the agency.

Agency manager Clayton Chau did not respond to a message asking if this was true.

The position – officially called the agency’s deputy director for addiction and mental health services – oversees those services and spends hundreds of millions of dollars annually.

The opening was posted online in August, to replace Jeff Nagel, who is about to step down.

But weeks later, there weren’t enough qualified candidates who had applied.

This prompted the county to extend the application period by several weeks, until the end of October.

“After reviewing the initial pool of applicants for this vital position, it was determined that extending the recruitment period would increase the number of applicants and increase competition for the position,” County spokeswoman Molly said. Nichelson, in a statement.

She called this “standard practice”, while declining to answer any questions about how many qualified people applied.

Nichelson and Chau also declined to answer questions about whether Chau had a preferred candidate and whether he suggested or pressured staff to consider particular candidates without going through the usual county human resources process.

Chau’s only response was to note that “there is an HR process in the county. And, that’s a tip [of Supervisors] appointed position.

The difficulties in filling the mental health post come amid a wave of high-level departures at the Health Care Agency, which is now headed by Chau and Second in Command Margaret Bredehoft.

Concerns have also been expressed that people hired in high-level positions within the health agency during the pandemic do not have sufficient experience and training in public health.

And, officials are considering the likelihood of vacancies even higher – which would have prompted potential applicants to be more cautious about applying for vacancies, according to a person close to the agency.

Many people close to the county have said board chairman Andrew Do is trying to move Chau to CalOptima, the county’s multi-billion dollar public health insurance for low-income, disabled and elderly residents. . Both declined to comment on these reports.

While the director of mental health is “appointed by the board of supervisors,” according to the county’s job posting, a supervisor said she was not told what was going on.

“Nobody got us involved. I have no idea what’s going on there, ”supervisor Katrina Foley said when asked on Wednesday about the challenges of filling the position.

The county is having problems filling jobs everywhere, she added.

“Each department has difficulty in hiring in all the vacant positions. So I don’t know if it’s specific to [the Health Care Agency] and all that’s specific to that department is just that there’s a shortage of employees statewide, ”Foley said.

The position of director of mental health, in particular, is crucial in the county, she noted, and includes overseeing mobile crisis response teams, homeless shelter programs and other addiction and mental health services.

“It’s a lot. So it will take a certain type of person,” Foley said.

A wave of directors and health officials across the country have left their posts during the pandemic, especially in the face of threats to their safety after issuing mask warrants.

The former Orange County health worker was among them.

Dr Nicole Quick abruptly resigned last year after anti-mask activists read aloud her home address at a public meeting and showed up at her home with a banner depicting her with a mustache in the Hitlerite.


County CEO Frank Kim and supervisor Don Wagner took issue with the idea that it has been difficult to fill the post of director of mental health.

“I don’t agree with the claim that recruiting is a struggle,” Kim said in a text message.

“We started recruiting early to give the county time to thoroughly research the best candidate. Dr Nagel has been an exceptional leader, implementing innovative community programs, ”such as at the Be Well Mental Health Campus in Anita Drive, he added.

“He won’t be easy to replace, but I’m confident the county will identify an outstanding candidate,” Kim said.

“We are looking for the best person for the job,” Wagner said in a text message.

“The job is complicated and difficult, requiring care in research and a special candidate willing and able to do the job,” Wagner said.

“I expect we will find this candidate, one who has the full confidence of the entire board and a passion for the men and women he is responsible for helping us serve.”

Nick Gerda covers county government for Voice of OC. You can contact him at [email protected]


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