QUINCY, Calif. (CN) – After Plumas County closed its Alcohol and Drug Department rather than accept $500,000 from the state to run it, a mother died of an overdose for lack of help, her family claims in Plumas County Court.
Norma Jean Hovey, guardian at litem for the four children of the late Barbara Witherow, and her husband, Michael Boyles, sued Plumas County and its Administrative and Budget Officer Jack Ingstad.
The family seeks punitive damages for wrongful death, and a writ of mandate ordering the county to provide drug and alcohol treatment.
The family alleges “willful conduct, negligence, fraud, deceit, and … failure to discharge a mandatory duty”.
They say their 28-year-old mother received substandard services, consisting of “a short weekly class through the Plumas County Mental Health Department, staffed by Plumas County Mental Health personnel untrained and uncertified in the provision of drug and alcohol services.”
The family says the state took two children away from their mom, and “(a)t that time, defendants Jack Ingstad and County of Plumas willfully and negligently refused to accept approximately $500,000.00 per year – beginning approximately one year prior to the removal of plaintiffs Mia F. and Christian B., and continuing through the decedent’s death – from the California Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs specifically earmarked for the provision of drug and alcohol services such as those ordered by the court to be provided to decedent to prevent or eliminate the need for removal of” the two children. “Consequently, though the drug and alcohol services were available, including funding for such services, defendants Jack Ingstad and County of Plumas negligently denied such services to decedent.”
The Plumas County Board of Supervisors directed Ingstad in 2008 to close the program to avoid a continual accrual of audit fines for the department, which at the time exceeded $100,000, and which would have to be paid from the general fund, according to the minutesof an Aug. 26, 2008 Board of Supervisors Meeting.
In 2010, the Plumas County Social Services Department removed two children from Witherow’s home, citing the danger from her drug and alcohol addiction, according to the complaint. Nine months later, county Social Services certified that Witherow had successfully completed an addiction treatment program required for reunification with her children.
She died of a drug overdose a month later.
Her family says she was not provided appropriate services and treatment for her addiction.
They say Witherow did not seek additional treatment because the county and Ingstad “represented to decedent that while there were no drug and alcohol programs services available in Plumas County, if decedent participated in a short, weekly class through the Plumas County Mental Health Department, staffed by Plumas County Mental Health personnel, she could adequately address her drug and alcohol problems; consequently, relying on these misrepresentations, decedent did not seek any further drug and alcohol services.”
On Nov. 4, 2010, Plumas County Social Services “informed the court that decedent had complied with her reunification case plan … and that all reasonable efforts had been made,” the complaint states.
Witherow died on Dec. 8, 2010, of “acute combined drug toxicity,” the family says, citing a pathologist’s report.
They say that “the statutorily mandated reasonable efforts … had never, in fact, been made.”
The family says that at the time, Plumas County was the only county in California that did not have a drug and alcohol treatment department.
The family is represented by Jeff Cunan, a former Plumas County district attorney.
Cunan is the one who discovered that state money was available for an alcohol and drug program in Plumas County and advocated for a local program, Plumas County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Lori Simpson told Courthouse News in a telephone interview.
Ingstad’s staff refused to comment on the lawsuit.
Ingstad and Cunan did not return calls by deadline.