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DOJ to review OnTrack

A report by the state over its contract with Southern Oregon's largest addictions recovery services provider, OnTrack Inc., will spark a review by the Department of Justice, the Mail Tribune learned Tuesday. 

On Aug. 15, 2016, the Oregon Department of Human Services required stricter oversight by Medford-based OnTrack of children living with recovering addicts, particularly during investigations of domestic violence and sexual assault cases.

A revised contract between DHS and OnTrack spells out how OnTrack needs to work more closely with at-risk families and other local organizations. DHS licenses OnTrack to provide residential and outpatient addiction treatment and outpatient mental health services.

The new contract does not detail what prompted the changes.

Gene Evans, spokesman for DHS, responded in an email to a request for more information about the DHS review of OnTrack's contract Tuesday by saying, "The report is in draft form and then will go to the Oregon Department of Justice for review."

The DHS report tracking how well OnTrack is complying with its contract was followed this month by the sidelining of its executive director, Rita Sullivan, who was placed on paid leave. Sullivan receives $120,000 a year, according to the 2014-2015 990 report filed with the IRS.

A letter distributed to employees said Sullivan was placed on leave amid allegations that management had "inappropriately interacted" with staff.

Sullivan and OnTrack were also named in a lawsuit this year alleging one of its counselors, Jeremy Braun, pressured a client to have sex in his office. The lawsuit was settled in January. The settlement amount was not released, but the suit asked for $2 million in damages.

OnTrack board chairman Rick Nagel, who has stepped in temporarily to handle some of Sullivan's responsibilities, said he couldn't talk about the specifics of why Sullivan was placed on paid leave but said an ongoing operational audit could lead to a restructuring of the organization's management.

Nagel said he was under the impression that the DHS review had ended but said that review didn't have anything to do with placing Sullivan on leave.

"I know that it does not play into this latest thing," he said.

He said that even though Sullivan is on paid leave, there are no negotiations underway to have her step down permanently. Nagel said he couldn't discuss the specifics of what "inappropriately interacted" meant in regard to Sullivan.

Nagel said he doesn't know how long Sullivan will remain on leave before she can rejoin the organization.

"She wasn't thrilled at first," Nagel said. "We'll see how it unfolds. Depending on the outcome, there may be a reorganization, and she agreed."

Sullivan has been with OnTrack for 39 years, Nagel said, but what was once a small organization has grown to 160 employees and requires a different management structure. 

"Rita Sullivan's the person behind OnTrack and the genius behind it," Nagel said. "She was doing everything and needs some help. She was a worker who put in seven days a week."

Sullivan was one of the driving forces behind creation of Jackson County's three treatment courts, for which OnTrack is the sole provider for addiction recovery services. OnTrack received $1.4 million in grants from the state Criminal Justice Commission for those services in 2015-16.

In the undated letter disseminated to OnTrack staff obtained by the Mail Tribune on Monday, Jim Maize, president of OnTrack's board of directors, announced Sullivan's leave with few details but stressed the program's strict "anti-harassment and anti-bullying policies." 

The letter said leaders of OnTrack intend to set up avenues for employees to register anonymous employment-related complaints that will be investigated by a third party. 

"We are committed to maintaining a work environment free of inappropriate or disrespectful behavior or conduct," Maize said in the letter. 

Placing Sullivan on leave was the culmination of an internal investigation over the past few months, according to the letter.

Sullivan could not be reached for comment Monday night or Tuesday.

While DHS wouldn't disclose what it discovered in its draft report, a contract between DHS and OnTrack shows significant changes that are recommended to keep track of at-risk families with recovering addicts.

In cases of domestic violence or sexual assault, OnTrack must subcontract with Community Works for oversight, according to the 32-page contract.

Jackson County Child Welfare staff must also accompany OnTrack workers who are investigating allegations of domestic violence.

OnTrack needs to provide better records of how families are progressing through programs that offer parenting skills or treatment for domestic violence, the contract states.

This isn't the first time Sullivan has drawn fire for her management style since she came to OnTrack.

In 1986, six former counselors claimed their boss harassed them until they were fired or forced to resign. They said high caseloads hurt the quality of treatment.

The Jackson County District Attorney's Office received the state attorney general's confidential report on the claims but declined to take any action.

At the time, according to a Mail Tribune article on Dec. 29, 1986, Sullivan said she felt attacked by the wave of investigators looking into allegations.

"Of course you're going to put your back against the wall when people are shooting at you," she said. "I wouldn't be human if I weren't responding in some regard."

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com. Follow him on www.twitter.com/reporterdm.

Rita Sullivan