Guam – While Gov. Eddie Calvo may be celebrating what he calls victory over a District Court Judge’s ruling to end the Federal Management of the island’s mental health department by December, Federal Manager Dr. Jim Kiffer says he doesn’t consider this a defeat.
The Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse is, in Kiffer’s eyes, a completely different facility now than it was when he first took over the reigns as Federal Manager in March 2010.
It was a ruling critics somewhat hoped for, but not the time frame they expected. Judge Consuelo Marshall, on Wednesday, ordered the return of Mental Health back to the government of Guam. But, she also gave Dr. Kiffer three more months before making it official. By December 3rd, Judge Marshall ordered, just a few weeks shy of the deadline Dr. Kiffer proposed himself.
“When I met with her (Judge Marshall) in January this was the decision we were saying. What will terminate this case? We decided to approach it in this fashion in January. Then over the course of the year I have kept her informed, I submitted a monthly report on our progress with that. We’ve reached that,” said Kiffer. “I think we’re in the 80 to 85 percent of completing that. And she said, ‘Okay, now we’ll just finish up these three or four that you have to do and we’ll set an end date to the FMT. Not necessarily to the case but to the FMT,’ and we talked about that and I proposed December and she picked a day in December. That was her choice. Obviously it was something we worked at for over a year to reach December and close this out, which we did do, so I see it as a success in that respect
But Attorney Daniel Somerfleck, who filed the lawsuit against the government 12 years ago, was disappointed with the decision. Somerfleck wanted Judge Marshall to appoint Superior Court Judge Elizabeth Barrett-Anderson to replace Dr. Kiffer immediately. In papers he filed in court, Somerfleck says Guam has failed to meet minimum health care standards even after 12 years of litigation.
But Kiffer disagrees. Just some of the accomplishments in this year so far, he says, include rebuilding the department’s computer infrastructure, hiring more psychologists, improving community based crisis services, consolidating some in-patient units and decreasing in-patient admissions. He’s also purchased more ADA-compliant mini-vans for the department.
“I think three months is fine. In better conditin? Oh my God, yes,” said Kiffer, adding that it was the DMHSA staff that put in most of the work to bring the department up to the standards it is in now.
Kiffer says there’s still much to do at the department. Aside from working with Mental Health director Wilfred Aflague to ensure a smooth transition by December 3, he says he wants to give the building a face-lift by getting it re-painted and water-blasted. He also wants to beef up security, among other projects.
Prior to being appointed court-monitor in March 2010, Dr. Kiffer was a forensic psychologist for the Judiciary of Guam.