DHHS employee criticizes state’s handling of mental healthcare

Samantha Captain outside the Grappone Conference Center in Concord after receiving a restraining order

Samantha Captain outside the Grappone Conference Center in Concord after receiving a restraining order SRUTHI GOPALAKRISHNAN—

Samantha Captain and her 9-week-old puppy, Maple, stand outside the Grappone Conference Center in Concord after receiving a restraining order.

Samantha Captain and her 9-week-old puppy, Maple, stand outside the Grappone Conference Center in Concord after receiving a restraining order. SRUTHI GOPALAKRISHNAN / Monitor staff

By SRUTHI GOPALAKRISHNAN

Monitor staff

Published: 11-02-2023 5:34 PM

Modified: 11-02-2023 6:00 PM


Last year’s keynote speaker at the annual conference of the state’s Suicide Prevention Council was removed by police from this year’s event for trespassing after showing up with a sign criticizing the state’s mental health system.

Wearing a sign that read, “Ask me why the mental health system is failing,” Samantha Captain stood outside the conference at the Grappone Conference Center in Concord to draw attention to the issues she sees with the state’s mental healthcare system.

“The state seems to be fine with meaningless words and further funding the same failed approaches,” said Captain, an employee at the Department of Health and Human Services. “The system is failing because it has been allowed to fail, and because the people in power feel so different from those who are relying on them to do the work. The only difference I see is indifference.”

The management at the conference center was less than receptive to Captain’s message and called the police, who issued an order for her to stay off the property. She moved to the public sidewalk in front of the center, where she held her sign for hours.

“I want inclusion. I want a voice at the table for not just me but for my community and be involved in this movement, which is really all I care about,” she said in an interview later. “I care about the necessary systemic change.”

She said she tried to enter the conference, but was denied.

Thursday was Captain’s most recent attempt to draw attention to the state’s mental healthcare system, driven by her frustration with her workplace. She says she felt discriminated against because she was critical of the state and was prevented from doing the job she was hired to do.

“I know my employer isn’t willing to hear me out,” said Captain. “But, these are people who claim to be here to help prevent suicide. Why don’t they want to know what I have to think?”

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A spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services did not return requests for comment.

Captain, who took on the role of a Peer Programming Specialist at the department in December, was also responsible for managing the Office of Consumer and Family Affairs in the Bureau of Mental Health Services. However, she has been on unpaid leave for a month and faces the possibility of losing her job.

Her role was to listen to concerns from the community, including those related to outpatient and inpatient mental healthcare. Even nurses and doctors reached out to her to voice their frustrations with the state’s mental healthcare system.

Captain’s deep passion for access and quality of mental health care was fueled by her personal experiences with mental health issues from as early as the age of 10.

Before taking her current job, Captain served as a residential program director at a step-up, step-down program in Manchester.

Her proactive approach in addressing complaints and advocating for change was met with resistance from her supervisor, Captain said.

She believes her openness and the trust she had built within the community had become a problem for the state officials who didn’t want complaints amplified by her efforts.

Some of the issues she heard were staffing shortages that affected both patient care and workplace safety for healthcare workers.

“The community knows I also had my own experiences. It builds trust, and that trust I think was an optics problem for the state,” said Captain. “These complaints were not disappearing anymore and they were actually being pushed to be addressed by me.”

Captain was asked to cease seeking peer services for herself and to distance herself from the very community that had supported her in managing her own mental health challenges.

When Captain sought accommodations to manage her mental illness, which qualifies as a disability, she faced denial, she said.

Captain has filed a complaint against the Department of Health and Human Services with the state’s Commission for Human Rights Commission for being placed on unpaid leave after requesting accommodations for her disability.

“If there’s no way for the state to address concerns in the workplace, your chances are very limited especially when you’re offering your vulnerability as part of your job,” Captain said. “It’s really dangerous if nobody’s there to back you up. It leaves people in a position where their lowest lows can be used against them.”