Fifty-two former employees, board members, current and past volunteers and community members sent a letter to the NAMI Maine board of directors last week to express their strong disapproval of the nonprofit’s leader, mounting pressure for the board to address allegations that Jenna Mehnert’s “abusive” management style has caused rampant turnover at the agency.
The letter also urged officials with NAMI’s national organization, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, to conduct “a thorough assessment” of the Maine chapter’s board of directors because of their failure to adequately respond to complaints about Mehnert that employees raised for years.
The call to action comes as the state’s most prominent mental health advocacy agency has undertaken a series of steps to look into the workplace conditions that 15 former employees described in an Oct. 30 Bangor Daily News investigation of Mehnert’s treatment of staff.
Most recently, the board voted to place Mehnert on administrative leave in late November.
Since she was hired in 2013, Mehnert has “demonstrated an impetuous temperament that has seriously damaged both employee morale and NAMI Maine’s credibility and relationships within our Maine communities,” according to the letter, which was sent to NAMI Maine’s board on Nov. 30.
The BDN article featured “just a small subset of these behaviors,” the letter said, noting that everyone who signed it either experienced or witnessed Mehnert’s “fear-based tactics” and “abusive conduct” firsthand.
A few of them also spoke to BDN for the Oct. 30 story, which reported that Mehnert handed down unpredictable reprimands, spoke down to employees and criticized them behind their backs, and created such a demoralizing workplace that people often left to preserve their own mental health. The Nov. 30 letter cast itself as a vote of “no confidence” in Mehnert’s leadership and included the names of 64 people who left the agency during her time at the helm.
The turnover is “the most striking evidence of Ms. Mehnert’s failure as a leader,” they wrote. But they also singled out a comment she made to a reporter as an especially offensive example of why she is unfit for her role. Mehnert denied she ever created a hostile work environment, saying she inherited organizational problems, and the road was “made more complicated” by her employees’ own mental health struggles.
“We are appalled that the leader of an organization which purports to fight stigma would use former employees’ mental health status to disqualify their complaints,” the letter states. “Such conduct is simply not appropriate in any workplace, let alone the largest mental health advocacy entity in the state.”
In response to the Oct. 30 article, the board hired an outside attorney, Erik Peters, to look into the experiences of former staff. In recent weeks, he has started setting up…