|OPINION AND COMMENT By Bob Weaver|
In days long gone, the WV legislature charged the state mental health system to be responsible for public mental health, and began funding the system with taxpayer money.
As years went by, the delivery of mental health was essentially privatized, based on assumptions the system should and could compete with private agencies.
Hence came, the private, non-profit corporations that now deliver most mental health services to the state.
Many of the center's, struggling with trying to deliver services to the needy, went bankrupt.
This area's mental health agency, Westbrook, went about purchasing real estate and building fancy buildings trying to be a success story, like a private corporation. They failed.
Thus, the challenge to make money or die.
Now comes Pete Radakovich, the CEO of Wheeling's mental health center - Northwood Health Center.
Radakovich has just hired Charles Ryan Associates to promote himself to a national audience, a success story about how he has made money with a public health system.
Northwoods is a system that says "No ticket (cash), no ride," even though it operates primarily on taxpayer money.
Radakovich's salary as a "turn-around-specialist" is something near $500,000, several times the industry standard, and he is proud of his accomplishments.
Nonprofit Northwood makes the largest "profits" of any mental health center in West Virginia, according to IRS documents.
Mental-health advocate Teri Toothman of Wheeling complained that Northwood doesn't provide a service unless it can make a profit on it.
"They are all about making money, not providing quality services," Toothman said last month. "The people who need help aren't receiving adequate services."
Northwood has hired former state Administration Secretary Tom Susman as a lobbyist, the only mental health center in West Virginia with its own lobbyist.
The pitch for Radakovich: "Eight years ago, Northwood was on the verge of bankruptcy. The pivotal point was in 1997 when the agency hired Pete Radakovich. This turn-around specialist implemented state-of-the-art communications and technology systems to save Northwood. Simply put, Northwood has succeeded where others have failed. [Radakovich] instituted changes and ideas that not only saved Northwood, but could also save other health organizations as well."
Radakovich also slashed staff by one-quarter, cut out sick days and demanded employees put in longer hours, which has led to high turnover at the nonprofit, Radakovich said in a 1999 Sunday Gazette-Mail story.
Between 2000 and 2004, Northwood has spent more than $1.7 million in legal fees. Most of that went to the Pittsburgh law firm Buchanan Ingersoll, which employs a Northwood board member.
In April 2002, Northwood transferred approximately $8 million in assets to a separate foundation, but its board members refuse to say why.
The IRS says Northwood has given little help to local people.
Now, state lawmaker Sen. Ed Bowman is leaving the center's board because the six-figure salary of its executive director has put him in "an uncomfortable position."
Radakovich's compensation was set by a board committee before Bowman was a member, but he says he has not attempted to get the board to reconsider his salary.
Most of Northwood's board members have defended Radakovich's salary, saying he turned the center around and puts in 80 to 100-hour workweeks.
The center was once a vibrant institution that served community needs.
Now, it is a great success story because it rolls in cash and we are to praise Radakovich.