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.”