ASH executive director abruptly retires today

Mel Hunter, executive director at Atascadero State Hospital, will retire from the troubled facility effective today, a Department of Mental Health spokeswoman has confirmed.

Hunter announced in a memo distributed to employees Tuesday that he would step down today after more than three decades at ASH. Jon DeMorales, the hospital’s former executive director who had been working as a special consultant, will fill the top administrative post, Mental Health spokeswoman Kirsten Deichert said.

Hunter started at the hospital in 1972 as a psychiatric technician. Before being named executive, he acted as co-founder of the Atascadero Clinical Safety Project and studied patient violence against staff.

He was not immediately available for comment this afternoon.

Deichert said she could not explain Hunter’s abrupt announcement, which reportedly caught employees at ASH by surprise, but said she believed he had been planning his retirement for several months.

Hunter’s resignation comes as the state struggles to cope with record staff vacancies as clinicians depart state facilities for better-paying jobs within the corrections department. The shortfalls have prompted a federal judge to order pay raises for mental health employees who treat mentally ill prisoners at ASH and other facilities.

See Thursday’s Tribune to read more about Hunter and his tenure at ASH.

-- Stephen Curran

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