Mental Health Board Member Resigns
June 21, 2022 by Valerie S. Clause

News came on June 21 that Geauga County Mental Health and Recovery Services board member Vanessa Jensen had resigned.

News came on June 21 that Geauga County Mental Health and Recovery Services board member Vanessa Jensen had resigned.

The reasons for Jensen’s resignation were not offered prior to press deadline.

She attended the June 15 meeting of the board during which conflicts in understanding mental health services were exposed.

During a discussion of funding for evidence-based prevention programs, which allocate funds for teaching mental health and wellness to youth, board member Mike Petruziello asked how a child in the target age group – ages five to eight – could have mental health issues when they can’t yet read or write.

“This is a parent problem, not a mental health problem,” Petruziello said. “Would you let your child be indoctrinated by someone they don’t know?”

Michelle Bertman, site director for Catholic Charities of Geauga County, spoke from the audience. She said parents sign off on activities in the program.

“What kind of parent does that,” Petruziello asked.

He also requested a list of parents who have enrolled their children in the program, but was advised that information would not be made available to him.

Bertman told board members the program has been in place for over 10 years. Using puppets that engage the youngsters, the program teaches students mental wellness in dealing with anger, conflict and being a friend, she said.

Other board members explained this is an intervention program that helps prevent mental health and behavioral issues that if left unaddressed, often cause problems – to the point of some children having been expelled from daycare multiple times.

“Mental health in the last 20 years has boomed,” Petruziello said. “We have more mental health issues today than we ever had in our entire history of America. I believe that some of these programs that we’re introducing to these young children are causing these issues to continue to grow. Because we’re not reducing mental health in our county, it’s expanding. That means we’re doing something systemically wrong, and I think we need to take a look at it and find out what that problem is – the root cause – and try to correct it. If we don’t correct it now, it’ll never be corrected.”

Board member Walter “Skip” Claypool agreed with Petruziello. He raised his children, and now grandchildren, and said he feels mental health issues are a parenting problem. Children act out, Claypool said, it’s up to the parents to teach them.

Board member Mary Ruth Shumway said Claypool was lucky, but children do have mental health issues, and parents need help.

“Mike, you made a statement in a meeting (referring to a previous meeting) – you said, ‘We didn’t have these problems when men worked and women stayed home with the children,’” Jensen said. “I found that really offensive to me, personally as a working mother – and many of us are working mothers – and to blame working women for the problems of mental health is inappropriate.”

Petruziello did not deny making the statement.

The motion to fund the program ultimately passed, with Claypool, Petruziello, Jennifer Malainy and Kathy Johnson voting against it.