Traverse City Record-Eagle

March 1, 2013

Forum: Parent supports ex-CMH employee


Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — By Cheryl Karpinski-Strang

Recently, Jonathan Bennett was fired from his job as Recipient Rights Officer at Northern Lakes Community Mental Health. News of his firing hit me hard. As the step-mother of an autistic daughter, I have spent years trying to advocate for my child. The role of advocate has involved a steep learning curve and is not an activity I would have freely chosen.

My only contact with Mr. Bennett was when my husband and I filed a recipient rights complaint on behalf of our autistic daughter. We found Mr. Bennett to be a man of integrity. His willingness to listen and take our concerns seriously was welcomed in a very stressful situation. In the end, Mr. Bennett’s report was not in our favor on all issues in our complaint. After all, it is not his job to take sides.

Please keep in mind that Mr. Bennett’s impartiality applied not only to clients and their families but to the very institution that employed him. Therefore, recent quotes from CMH management alleging “conflict” between Jonathan Bennett and Northern Lakes staff left me dumbfounded. Claims that Mr. Bennett’s job performance was “compromising” the ability of CMH staff to do their jobs rang untrue.

It is not the job of the Recipient Rights Officer to win popularity contests. Nor was it Mr. Bennett’s job to appease his employer. If an air of “deep conflict” did exist, then it seems to me that the fault lies not with Mr. Bennett but with the way employees of CMH were taught to regard Mr. Bennett’s job responsibilities.

Instead of being penalized, Mr. Bennett should be rewarded for staying true to his job description and to his own sense of morality. A quick look at Northern Lake’s website finds the following quote: “Under the authority of the Mental Health Code, the Northern Lakes Office of Recipient Rights directly provides, coordinates, and advocates for the protection of the rights of individuals receiving mental health services.”

The only thing Mr. Bennett is guilty of is taking whatever steps necessary to ensure “the rights of individuals receiving mental health services” are taken seriously. For this he gets fired?

Not only should Mr. Bennett be returned to his job, but I would suggest that CMH management hire an independent consultant to design a way to have someone other than Northern Lakes staff in a position of authority over Mr. Bennett. The Office of Recipient Rights should be independent of concerns and pressures management might be tempted to put upon the Recipient Rights Officer.

If what Northern Lakes truly wants is someone who will never buck the system, someone who will always side with case managers, someone who will always appease CMH management, then may I suggest CMH rid themselves of a recipient rights officer and instead hire a public relations firm.

If CMH intends to remain true to the task of protecting the rights of individuals receiving mental health services, then reinstate Mr. Bennett now.

About the author: Cheryl Karpinski-Strang of Kingsley is the step-parent of an autistic child who receives services through Northern Lakes Community Mental Health. She has been an advocate for her daughter.

About the forum: The forum is a periodic column of opinion written by Record-Eagle readers in their areas of interest or expertise. Submissions of 500 words or less may be made by emailing letters@record-eagle.com. Please include biographical information and a photo.