Some of the programming psychiatrist Gary Gibbs offered during his seven years with the Monterey County Health Department was admittedly a little out there. His workshops advertised yogic breathing and a “guided visualization on light.”
But after Gibbs’ contract was terminated in 2014, a colleague, social worker Theresa Barreras, contacted his patients and encouraged them to speak on Gibbs’ behalf. About a dozen spoke at the June 24, 2014 Board of Supervisors meeting.
“If it wasn’t for him, I would probably be in prison right now,” a middle-aged man said. “I don’t get along with many people, but I get along with Dr. Gibbs.”
A few months later, Barreras was fired. According to a lawsuit she filed Sept. 14 in Monterey County Superior Court, seeking $350,000 in damages, her termination was retaliation for her advocacy.
Her lawsuit is likely the first of at least a half-dozen by current and former Health Department employees, alleging mismanagement and unfair treatment.
Former County Crisis Supervisor Devon Corpus, who returned to work in October after six months on administrative leave, filed a claim (often a precursor to a lawsuit) against the county on Oct. 1. For nearly seven years, she trained law enforcement officers on crisis intervention – the ability to identify mental illness, then de-escalate encounters with people on the street.
Corpus’ allegations mostly revolve around management by Dr. David Soskin, chief of psychiatry at Natividad Medical Center and medical director of Behavioral Health, and range from serious to petty. An example of the former: Behavioral health officials were no longer allowed to attend hostage negotiation trainings with police, undermining efforts to improve cooperation during SWAT responses. The latter: Her parking space was removed.
Corpus is one of seven current and former Health Department employees represented by the Visalia law firm Melo and Sarsfield. (Others include Corpus’ boss, Behavioral Health Services Manager Robert Jackson, who’s been on paid leave since April; former Deputy Public Guardian Jennifer Empasis, who was recently terminated; and Deanna Gunn, finance manager.)
Before becoming Monterey County Health Director in 2010, Ray Bullick worked at the Tulare County Health Department, where Melo and Sarsfield brought multiple lawsuits by employees.
County Counsel Charles McKee views these claims, from a of department 800, as a blip. “Extrapolating any department-wide import would be inappropriate and inaccurate,” he writes by email.