Plumas County’s Mental Health System Faces Major Scrutiny Following Teen’s Suicide; Full Investigation Promised
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QUINCY (CBS13) – The circumstances surrounding the death of a Plumas County girl is sparking outrage and frustration.
Paige Ferguson was only 14 years old, and her father blames her death on the people who were supposed to save her.
Come September of this year, the Plumas County teen would take her own life.
“Beautiful, fun, she would say things that most adults wouldn’t think of,” said Joe, Paige’s father.
Paige recently moved to be with him in the small town of Quincy, where Joe moved after a bitter divorce. The two lived with family friend Tracy Sims.
“I didn’t see the lows, but she specifically came up to me on two or three different occasions and said ‘I want someone to talk to,’ ” said Sims.
Sims realized behind Paige’s smile, she hid a lot of pain, depression over her move, and her broken family.
“She needs someone to help her start peeling back the layers, and it never happened,” she said.
As they sought more help, things got worse for Paige. She told friends at Quincy High School she wanted to end it all.
“Please tell me you don’t want to kill yourself, because that’s just the worst thing a parent wants to hear,” said Joe.
He immediately picked up his little girl, and rushed her to Plumas County’s mental health center.
“The director comes out and they sit down with Paige, and she’s in there for maybe an hour and half,” said Sims.
“I know a person doesn’t say that ‘I’m going to kill myself,’ and then an hour later they are fine. So I am waiting for something big to happen,” said Joe.
But it didn’t. After an evaluation, Paige was sent home with promises she would be seen that following week.
“I never let that girl out of my sight for five days. The day I did, she left, she left,” said Joe.
Paige found the hunting rifle her dad bought her years before, and shot herself in the head.
Her family is left with not only an overwhelming amount of pain and guilt, but also a growing frustration that a 14-year-old girl fell through the cracks of a system in serious question.
“I would just assume that they grabbed and took her away, and declared me an unfit father, then do nothing,” said Joe.
“It made me sick,” said Plumas County Supervisor Jon Kennedy.
Kennedy is one of five supervisors in charge of overseeing the county’s mental health program. He says since taking office he has heard of numerous problems with their mental health unit.
“Most of the complaints are someone seeked (sic) services, didn’t get them in a timely fashion and something happened drastically,” he said.
The day before Paige’s death, the board decided to fire its mental health director — for reasons they can’t discuss.
Now, Kennedy says he’s trying to get to the bottom of why a suicidal girl was just sent home, with a follow-up planned for five days later.
“Two minutes seems like a long time. That is wrong in all sorts of fashions,” said Kennedy.
Kennedy is promising not only a full investigation, but the board is implementing more oversight.
“This is a terrible story,” said Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg.
Steinberg led the fight to pass the Mental Health Services Act a decade ago. Since then, the state has infused over a billion dollars a year to bolster mental health services in every county.
However, a recent audit shows the state “did not provide the oversight needed to demonstrate whether the MHSA is effective” …or if “…counties appropriately implemented their…plans.”
Steinberg admits oversight evaluations have been lacking, but that’s changing.
“It’s going in the right direction. More people are getting help than before,” said Steinberg.
“So I’m sitting here and I’m thinking, ‘what about the next person that brings her teenager there,’ whether she wants attention or not,” said Joe.
Joe hopes Kennedy will stay true to his word to help those like Paige, and prevent tragedy for the next troubled teen looking for hope and help. Despite lawyers’ recommendations that he not talk to CBS13, Kennedy wanted to offer something.
“What I wanted these attorneys and someone to stop and say to the family that we’re sorry,” said Kennedy.
Kennedy has yet to disclose how long their investigation will take.
CBS13 will continue to follow this story to see what changes have been put in place.