“She sounded like she did — she would scream and yell, ‘I can’t believe the files are a mess,’ I know she wanted it perfect. And we would pass 100%,” Dougherty said.
A third counselor at the Teen Recovery Center, Jeff Larsen, was also questioned. He told the investigative team that he sometimes fell behind on his paperwork by “3 to 4 weeks.” In speaking of one particular instance that took place in 2006, Larsen said, “I was pressured from Sheila [the supervisor] to get files done.” During the discussion, Lembo pointed out a discrepancy in Larsen’s paperwork. “Progress notes are signed and according to the note on 5/9 the youth was not there,” she said.
As the questioning continued, Larsen attributed the discrepancy to “sloppy note writing,” but Hunter sounded increasingly exasperated: “I am having trouble believing that it is sloppy writing. Sometimes the things people do, they do for a reason.… I’ve talked to six staff in the past days and I have enough statements from people it all rolls back to your files, auditing it rolls back to you, creating the cookie cutter notes rolls back and the progress notes do not reflect the accurate services provided to youth. Then I heard it again, pulled more files and it corroborates to the serious issues brought up. So, I have statements, physical evidence, a report from the person assigned to review the files. Files are a mess, it horrifies me….”
During the time that the agency was conducting interviews, it also reviewed the 40 case files that were open during September 2006. Directors Pam Wright and Valerie Brew wrote a summary of the review, dated August 21, 2008. Under the category of “Intake” records, the summary says that the “Referral Form” was “Generally not found in file.” Of the “Youth Assessment Index,” “There were numerous times when this form was missing from the case file,” and “Generally speaking, this form was not completed in full and had significant fields missing.”
In the category of “Treatment Plan,” the summary says: “Supervisor’s signature frequently missing,” “coined goals,” and “Periodically, the date of the individual progress note indicating that the plan was reviewed and signed with the client did not correspond to any dates listed on the plan.”
Johnson’s suit alleges that problems with recordkeeping were not confined to a particular time or limited to a particular program at South Bay Community Services. “Former employees who left in good standing have informed plaintiff of overt falsification practices that they witnessed within the last 2 to 3 years in different [South Bay Community Services] programs such as the ‘Trolley Trestles’ program and ‘Casa Nuestra,’” his suit states.
Tara Olin is one of those former employees referred to in Johnson’s suit. She worked for the agency from 2005 until 2007. In a Declaration she made to the court on June 4, 2010, in support of the lawsuit by Alicia Guido, Olin states that she was a quality assurance and contract compliance associate and for a time a resident manager at Trolley Trestle. Her court Declaration states, “On more than one occasion when the Agency was notified of an upcoming audit, managers and case workers would pull some or all client case files and check them to see if they were meeting contractual/audit requirements.… If the files were not meeting the requirements, the program manager or case worker would revise the file by filling in missing information, adding missing documents, or adding additional progress notes to meet the requirements, backdating the paperwork to when it was supposed to have been done.”
Olin described an incident that occurred shortly before she left the agency. In late March or early April 2007, she held a meeting attended by program managers and the compliance director, Dina Chavez. “It was clear from the statistics that we would not meet our objectives for one program and would have to report this to the required agencies,” Olin’s Declaration states. “Dina Chavez asked us to count clients from another program to increase the numbers, and therefore meet the objective.” Olin told Chavez that this was not allowed. Not only had the clients not received services from that program, but Olin thought this would be “double-counting.” The Declaration continues, “I had heard about the Agency directors double-counting or falsifying reports on some programs in the past from other employees, but had never experienced it first-hand until that time.”
In a lawsuit filed in 2006, a family therapist who worked for South Bay Community Services for five years described another incident. “On or about October 31, 2005, Plaintiff’s supervisor, Leone, called Plaintiff into her office. Leone told Plaintiff to reopen a closed case file on one of Plaintiff’s clients. The purpose of this directive was to enter a billing invoice into the file for work supposedly performed by another therapist. San Diego County was to pay this bill. Leone told Plaintiff to reopen the case, crossed out some case notes, and instructed Plaintiff to sign a document stating that the case was still open when, in fact, it was not.” The lawsuit states that the Plaintiff declined to sign the document and “charge the county for work not performed.” When contacted for an interview, the family therapist said her suit was settled out of court with a confidentiality clause and she was unable to discuss it.
Two of the three lawsuits filed against South Bay Community Services since 2006 list “Wrongful Termination” as a cause of action. Other causes listed in the suits are “Battery,” “Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress,” “Hostile Work Environment,” and “Harassment.”
In June of 2008, Johnson filed a grievance with the agency’s Human Resources Department. “Almost immediately after the Plaintiff filed his grievance,” Johnson’s lawsuit states, “Defendant Lembo demoted the Plaintiff by modifying his job duties to include being a ‘bathroom monitor.’ Defendant Lembo directed that all counselors in Plaintiff’s department of the Teen Recovery Center be bathroom monitors.”
The suit describes bathroom-monitor duties: “Defendant Lembo mandated that the Plaintiff escort…clients to the restroom, unlock the restroom door, and then wait outside until the client was done. After the…client left the restroom, Defendant Lembo directed, the Plaintiff was to go into the restroom and inspect for graffiti.”