HELENA — The director of the Helena office of the Center for Mental Health has been placed on administrative leave.
Rhonda Champagne told the Independent Record she was placed on leave Friday. That same day, the IR published a story in which Champagne said she expected the center was going to have to file for bankruptcy and that she was working on contingency plans so clients could get their therapy and medications if that happened.
"There wasn't any explanation for this, other than the article in the Independent Record," Champagne said Friday. "But I'm fine and would do it again tomorrow."
Interim CEO Sydney Blair said Champagne was put on temporary leave because she "said a lot of things that were half-truths and scared people."
"She will be back on Wednesday," Blair said.
The nonprofit center serves about 5,700 clients at 22 facilities in 13 counties in central Montana.
Curt Chisholm and other community members have been working with the center on various programs for years, and met with Blair, Champagne and other state and local organizations Wednesday, just after the center announced it was laying off 14 people and cutting the hours of 14 more as a cost-saving measure.
Chisholm was angry Friday about Champagne's leave of absence.
"They sat down in a room with a group of us in Helena and basically said, 'We don't know if we can make payroll the next couple of cycles.' That's how broke they are," Chisholm said. "We asked if bankruptcy was a possibility and they said yes. Now they're suspending her for saying it."
Blair said she hoped what had been discussed at the meeting wouldn't be publicized because talks about cutting costs often make the center's clients uneasy.
"Every time something like this goes out it sends our clients into a tailspin," Blair said.
But Champagne said the clients have a right to know what's going on.
"We teach people all the time if they're hurt or in trouble that we should talk about it and try to find a solution," Champagne said. "We're sick when we can't apply those principles to ourselves."
Blair said she didn't agree with Champagne's work to set up contingency plans for clients, even though Gene Hair with the state Board of Visitors, which oversees mental health facilities, recommended that take place.
"We've been in tight spots before and come out of them," Blair said.