Montana State Hospital administrator removed as DPHHS begins work with private consulting firm

Fouts will transfer to Boulder-based Intensive Behavior Center as its new administrator on May 9

By: - April 21, 2022 5:44 pm

Montana State Hospital at Warm Springs (Photo via Wikimedia Commons | CC-BY-SA 3.0).

Montana State Hospital Administrator Kyle Fouts will be leaving the Warm Springs facility on May 9 as the state begins work with a private consulting firm to review and reform operations at the psychiatric hospital.

Department of Public Health and Human Services spokesman Jon Ebelt said in an email Thursday that Fouts’ last day at the state hospital will be on May 9 when he will transfer to the Boulder-based Intensive Behavior Center as its new administrator. When reached by phone, Fouts declined to comment on the transfer.

DPHHS is grateful for Kyle’s service at MSH and MCDC and looks forward to the experience that he will bring to IBC,” DPHHS said in an email.

Tensions between employees and Fouts have been mounting since he took over in 2019. In a letter sent to the Gianforte administration last week, employees at the hospital accused Fouts of mismanagement including nepotism, lack of care for patient safety and verbal abuse from management.

Fouts declined to comment on the allegations last week and referred questions to DPHHS’ Ebelt responded to questions about the hospital but not specifically about Fouts.

Employees who spoke to the Daily Montanan on Thursday shared their joy of Fouts being removed, but they expressed sympathy for the Boulder Intensive Behavior Center.

“I think it’s amazing. I think it’s a positive thing … you can definitely feel an uplift,” said Debbie Mehring, a behavioral health care planner at the hospital. “It feels good that he is leaving this facility, but it is very sad that he is going to Boulder, so my heart goes out to the folks at Boulder.” 

Jack Griswold, employee union president at the hospital, expressed the same sentiment.

“I think it’s a step in the right direction … people are a lot happier,” he said. “But it’s not getting rid of the problem, it’s just passing a problem onto someone else. How is that fair to the people of Boulder?”

Carter Anderson, a current DPHHS employee, will serve as interim director and move into the position full-time on May 9.

“Both Kyle and Carter will work together over the next few weeks to ensure a smooth transition occurs,” Ebelt said. “Both will move into their new roles full-time with an effective date of May 9.”

According to DPHHS, Anderson served as the Office of Inspector General Administrator, which oversees certification and licensing for DPHHS, since 2018 and has more than 20 years of executive management experience, including oversight of several psychiatric residential facilities. And from 2016 to 2018 Anderson served as the administrator for Acadia Healthcare, a psychiatric facility for children in Butte that closed down in 2019 after a series of patient abuse complaints including a 9-year-old Oregon girl who was chemically and physically restrained.

Fouts moving to Boulder and Anderson stepping in as interim administrator is part of DPHHS’ ongoing facilities reorganization and is in alignment with Alvarez and Marsal, the private consulting firm contracted by DPHHS starting its work at the hospital, DPHHS said in an email.

The consultants and staffing changes take place as the hospital deals with significant employee issues and a $7 million budget shortage discovered in the wake of a federal investigation. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services found the facility failed to have a COVID-19 protection plan, prevent patient falls and address other problems.

Another move in the reorganization announced Thursday is the hire of William Evo as deputy administrator for Healthcare Facility Operations position. The hire is part of the Gianforte Administration’s reorganization of DPHHS that became effective last summer and established a new facilities division meant to bring management of all DPHHS-operated facilities under one umbrella, the department said in an email.

According to DPPHS,  Evo has 12 years of comprehensive business, legal, consulting, and strategic and operational management experience. Evo also is currently in a dual role as director of patient safety, clinical quality, risk management, accreditation and performance improvement, and director of physician alignment at St. Mary Mercy Livonia Hospital in Detroit, Michigan.

DPHHS said Alvarez and Marsal started speaking with employees and hospital administrators at the hospital this week.

“Alvarez and Marsal Public Sector Services, LLC, officials hit the ground running this week and participated in several in-person meetings with DPHHS leadership, MSH officials, and external stakeholders. DPHHS is committed to a methodical, strategic, and data-driven approach to reforming MSH and other state-operated facilities,” Ebelt said in an email.

The term of the Alvarez and Marsal’s contract is from April 18 through June 30, 2023, and the firm will be paid a total of $2.2 million out of the state’s general fund. The firm has tapped consultants Chris Baglio and Diane Rafferty to review the hospital.

Agreed upon duties for Baglio and Rafferty include helping recruit staff to the hospital, bringing the facility up to federal standards and creating systems that ensure patient and employee safety.

However, Griswold said employees have raised concerns that Assistant Clinical Services Manager George Sich may be interfering with employees’ ability to speak to the consultants openly about conditions at the hospital.

Sich is walking around with the private consultants and employees are afraid to speak their minds because of fear of retaliation,” he said.

DPHHS did not respond to a question about what Sich’s role is in working with Alvarez and Marsal.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Keith Schubert
Keith Schubert

Keith Schubert is a reporter for the Daily Montanan. Keith was born and raised in Wisconsin and graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2019. He has worked at the St.Paul Pioneer Press, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and most recently, the Asbury Park Press, covering everything from local craft fairs to crime and courts to municipal government to the Minnesota state legislature. In his free time, he enjoys cheering on Wisconsin sports teams and exploring small businesses. He can be reached by text or call at 406-475-2954 .