Officials with the Oregon Health Authority announced Thursday that Dolly Matteucci has been hired to lead the Oregon State Hospital, filling a void atop the state psychiatric institution that has gone without a permanent superintendent for a year.
Matteucci, who will take the helm in mid-March, will arrive from California, where she has served as executive director of Napa State Hospital since 2010. That hospital serves more than 1,200 patients with an annual budget of $305 million, compared to Oregon’s 600-some patients and $250 million annual budget.
Matteucci’s hiring has already triggered criticism from one key lawmaker, Sen. Sara Gelser, D-Corvallis. Gelser, who is chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Human Services, tweeted, “Selection of new OSH Super is worrisome. A history of reducing patient rights, describing those w [mental illness] as ‘inherently dangerous’ and creating a law enforcement culture at the Napa Hospital is not the OR way. We must protect the positive change we’ve seen at OSH.” Gelser deleted the tweet minutes after posting it. Matteucci did not immediately return a request for comment.
Matteucci worked most of her life within the California psychiatric hospital system, starting as a clinical dietician in the late 1980s and working her way through management and to executive leadership. She has worked at the Napa hospital for more than two decades and accepted the top post there shortly after a patient strangled a hospital employee to death. As is the case in Oregon, most patients confined to her facility have been accused of crimes.
Matteucci said in a news release that she looks forward to joining the Oregon State Hospital, which she said is “a place for healing and a national leader in patient care.”
Oregon Health Authority director Pat Allen said Thursday that he believes Matteucci has the “right mix of compassion and expertise” to continue what he said is Oregon State Hospital’s upward trajectory, dating back to the beginning of its turnaround about a decade ago. Beckie Child, chairwoman of the Oregon State Hospital Advisory Board, said she believes Matteucci is joining the hospital “for all the right reasons.”
Matteucci succeeds highly-respected hospital superintendent Greg Roberts, who oversaw much of the hospital’s rebirth. Roberts has won praise from patient advocates, court officials, lawmakers and law enforcement alike. Since he retired last year the Oregon State Hospital has been led on an interim basis by John Swanson, the Oregon Health Authority’s chief financial and operating officer. Roberts had planned to retire in 2016, but delayed his exit for more than a year because of difficulties finding his replacement.
Two previous searches for a permanent hospital leader did not yield a viable finalist because the salary offered was not competitive, according to people who sat on the interview panels. Matteucci will be paid $235,988 a year, according to a spokeswoman for the psychiatric hospital.
Three kinds of patients are confined to the Oregon State Hospital: people who are guilty of a crime except for their insanity, people receiving treatment for their mental illness so they can stand trial and people who pose an immediate a danger to themselves or others because of mental illness.