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Interim chief named to manage state's troubled Department of Mental Health

Newly appointed California Health and Human Services Secretary Diana Dooley said Tuesday that she has named a veteran state bureaucrat as interim head of the state's troubled Department of Mental Health.

Dooley thanked longtime Mental Health Director Stephen Mayberg, who retired last week after 18 years of service, and placed Cliff Allenby in charge of the department, which oversees a $6.4-billion budget and 12,000 employees.

Allenby spent 23 years with the state Department of Finance, rising to become deputy director. He has also headed California's Health and Welfare Agency, the state Department of Developmental Services -- where he remained for eight years -- and the state Department of Social Services, where he served as interim director for 15 months. He stepped down in April 2007 and currently sits on the state’s Managed Risk Medical Insurance Board, which aims to reduce the state’s number of uninsured residents.

Dooley, who has known Allenby for years, said in a phone interview Tuesday that she asked him to step in because he “has been such a utility infielder, pitching in for different state agencies.”

California's mental hospitals have been under federal court order to improve patient care and safety since 2006 but have nonetheless experienced rising levels of patient violence against other patients and staff, particularly at Napa State Hospital’s aging facility, where a psychiatric technician was slain in October.

About 90% of the hospital system's patients have committed a crime related to their illnesses -- a trend that has increased dramatically in recent years -- and employee groups have called for a new director who has psychiatric experience working with a criminalized population.

Dooley stressed that she will seek input from all “stakeholders and interested parties” and said she is confident that Allenby “will manage the department and help me move to a permanent replacement.”

In addition to five state mental hospitals, the department manages complex funding streams channeled to counties for community mental health programs.

RELATED:

Violence at state hospitals spurs calls for change

California state hospital worker is slain on the job

Hospital patient in custody after allegedly assaulting rehabilitation therapist

-- Lee Romney in San Francisco

 
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