SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska


Behavioral Health Services
By Camielle Call


March 22, 2008

I am the most recent director of Gateway Center for Human Services, having tendered my resignation on or about March 1 of this year. It is important for me to clarify some issues associated with this position and with recent SitNews letters and the Ketchikan Daily News of March 8 - 9.

1) Gateway is in the unique position of being "owned" by the City of Ketchikan -- there is only one other community behavioral health clinic in the state of Alaska that is currently owned by a city. Some may recall when Juneau decided to divest itself of its city-owned mental health agency several years ago. I understand that the City Council has now charged the city administration to investigate and follow-up on moving Gateway into the private sector -- essentially making it a private not-for-profit agency.

2) Because Gateway is currently owned by the city, the Executive Director reports directly to the City Manager, at least in theory.

3) Most community behavioral health agencies in this state have a Board of Directors who oversee the Executive Director -- essentially assuring that the needs of the community are met, due to having 7 - 12 governing board members, many of whom are consumer or family members of consumers of behavioral health services.

4) In Ketchikan, the Gateway Executive Director spends a significant amount of time responding to requests, expectations, demands, etc. of the city administration. In effect, this translates into serious time taken away from managing the agency.

5) As was quoted in the Ketchikan Daily News upon my resignation, the staff of Gateway are incredible and there seemed to be no limit to the depth of cohesiveness we were beginning to establish as a behavioral health agency. We were looking to the future with program development, community agency collaboration, and a sense of agency well-being.

6) Contrary to what Karl Amylon was quoted to have said in the March 8-9 edition of the Ketchikan Daily News ("I would characterize it that I don't believe she believed it was a good fit. I would probably concur with that assessment."), my position was an excellent fit with the staff at Gateway. The only thing that was not a good fit was with city management.

6) Gateway is funded -- in part -- by a grant through the State of Alaska Division of Behavioral Health. This money comes from the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and has strict mandates to which each receiving entity must abide. When this money is further filtered through a city administration, it becomes more and more difficult to appropriately track all of the dollars spent.

7) The City of Ketchikan also funds, in part, the operation of Gateway. It does so because it currently owns the agency. Further, it considers Gateway a "department" of the City. The problem arises when such an intense service (working with people at their most emotional and traumatic times) is viewed simply as a department rather than an agency.

8) In response to Jay Jones' letter:
~The citizens of Ketchikan, as taxpayers, are the "bosses" of the city. Because Gateway serves the community, it is also accountable to the citizens. However, I wonder if it might be prudent to question the "why" of so many well-qualified and experienced Directors leaving the agency in only 2 - 3 years' time.
~Substance abuse counselors at Gateway are bachelor-degree'd professionals who earn about the same amount of money, per hour, that public school teachers earn.
~Mental health clinicians are masters- or PhD- level practitioners with two-plus years of experience. In Ketchikan, these professionals make about $5 to $10 per hour more than the bachelors-level counselors, depending upon experience and education.
~For Alaska, neither of these salaries are sufficient nor are they worthy of the extensive knowledge, education, or experience that Gateway professionals are required to have.
~If you have questions such as those asked in Mr. Jones' letter, you are likely to get canned responses from the city manager.
~Perhaps the residents of Ketchikan would be better served to ask the council and the city manager different questions.

In summary, there is considerably more to this picture than meets the eye. Gateway's long-standing provision of much needed mental health and substance abuse services must be supported and appropriately overseen. If the community cares about the mental health and well-being of its members, it will assure that Gateway Center for Human Services is recognized for the valuable work provided and it will question the efficacy of allowing this cherished organization to continue to be owned by the city.

Camielle Call
Camielle Call, LCSW
Consultation / Workshops
Sitka, AK


Received March 21, 2008 - Published March 22, 2008



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