The medical director who abruptly resigned this week from a state-run psychiatric hospital in Fairfax County said yesterday that he was forced to step down after he asked for more staff and resources to improve the troubled facility.
John N. Follansbee, whose resignation Wednesday came less than six months after he took the job, criticized state administrators who he said were trying to deflect blame for a "systemic" problem at the Northern Virginia Mental Health Institute.
"This was a damaged hospital when I arrived. To fix it in five months is an absurdity," Follansbee said in a telephone interview. "It was easier for them to say they got rid of `the problem medical director' than to fall on their faces."
Follansbee's abrupt departure, which surprised colleagues at the hospital, was the latest in an exodus of clinical staff members from the beleaguered facility after a 26-year-old patient died last summer. After the death, the hospital came under increased scrutiny by the U.S. Justice Department, which had cited it for inadequate care.
Shortly after Skander Najar died of a pancreatic hemorrhage, virtually the entire staff of psychiatrists and psychologists resigned from the hospital, including Follansbee's predecessor as medical director.
In January, state officials, touting Follansbee's experience with reforming troubled facilities, chose him to help revamp the medical staff at the 148-bed institute, which treats patients with severe psychiatric disabilities.
Follansbee, a West Point graduate and retired Army colonel, designed the Army's alcohol and drug treatment program for officers.
But on Monday, Follansbee said, he was called into the office of the hospital director, John Russotto, and told that he would be fired unless he submitted his resignation, to be effective two days later. Because Follansbee was still under a six-month probation, Russotto did not explain the dismissal other than to say he "didn't fit in," Follansbee said yesterday.
"I never received any personal criticisms, and whenever I asked how I was doing, he said fine," Follansbee said of Russotto. "I had no complaints until I began to approach him about the systemic problems with the facility."
Russotto referred calls yesterday to the state Department of Mental Health, Mental Retardation and Substance Abuse Services. Martha Meade, a spokeswoman there, declined to comment on Follansbee's resignation, reiterating the agency's policy not to discuss personnel matters.
However, Meade rebutted Follansbee's criticism of the agency. She said that improvements are being made at the hospital and that appropriate funding is being provided.
"We still feel that we have challenges but that we are making progress and we are continuing to monitor them," Meade said. "In terms of resources, we feel the hospital is being funded at appropriate levels to meet the requirements of the agreement with the Justice Department."
Follansbee disagreed. He said the facility is not likely to meet the improvement goals set by the Justice Department under an agreement reached with the state in 1997 after the threat of a federal lawsuit. "The place needs major surgery," Follansbee said. "Unless they get more staffing and funding, it's not going to get much better."