‘It’s very scary’: Former administrator says state mental health facilities low on nursing staff & physicians, presenting ‘real danger’

Dr. Richard Herstein was chief hospital administrator and chief medical officer for all DCF state hospitals in Florida

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A former leader of the Northeast Florida State Hospital says the situation with patients at the hospital is “very scary.”

Dr. Richard Herstein was the chief hospital administrator and chief medical officer for all Department of Children and Families state hospitals.

“These individuals that are in leadership positions within DCF have zero clinical knowledge or experience. And it’s very scary,” said Hersetin. “If I had a loved one or family member or friend in one of the state’s mental health treatment facilities, I would be extremely concerned.”

Northeast Florida State Hospital was under Herstein’s direction from December 2020 to December 2021 when investigators determined two patients were injured by other patients and later died. He said he gave multiple presentations to hospital leaders on the lack of staff at NEFSH.

“We especially were critically low on direct care staff workers and nursing staff. But we were also low on physicians as well, which presented a real danger I would say to not only patients at the facilities, but also the staff as well,” Herstein explained.

The inspector general’s report initially named four hospital staffers as alleged perpetrators, but they were exonerated.

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Herstein says he tried to get the employees re-hired due to low staff but was denied, and then he was fired.

“I was doing the right thing. And for that I was fired,” he said.

Marie Mattox is an attorney representing employees of NEFSH who spoke out after reporting low staffing and abuse of patients.

She said management is ill-prepared.

“They don’t know (expletive) from Shinola. We have somebody who is going to listen and is in the process of listening and is trying to get people back into their rightful positions, Dr. Herstein, and they fire him,” said Mattox.

Herstein hired a lawyer and filed a whistleblower complaint. A Leon County judge reinstated Herstein in December.

Herstein said he plans to return to the hospital to work. He isn’t the first to file a whistleblower complaint about the facility.

Dustin Williams, a hospital RN, filed a suit in 2020 alleging intimidation, retaliation and discrimination.

In that complaint, he alleged NEFSH physician Yolanda Hernandez seemed indifferent about risks to patients and he didn’t see her take any action to correct them

Williams settled his lawsuit with DCF.

We reached out to Hernandez to be able to bring you her perspective, and we’re waiting to hear back.

The I-TEAM has emailed DCF six different times with a total of 16 questions. And over the last 270 days, DCF’s only response has been “we will process your request and get back to you.”

“This system is just broken, and it’s going to take a lot more than Dustin and it’s going to take a lot more than Richard Herstein to fix it. Because as I said, the fish rots from the head down,” said Mattox.

Herstein, Williams, and Mattox say they will keep fighting for better conditions at NEFSH.


The I-TEAM on Friday received a response from DCF Deputy Communications Director Laura Walthall. Walthall said Herstein is “a former disgruntled employee who has not been reinstated.”

Walthall went on to write:

“Since hiring a new administrator, the Department has made incredible strides in all of our facilities. Of note:

  • Onboarded 151 Staff Augmentation full time employees: 37 registered nurses, 21 licensed practical nurses and 93 home support workers who are trained and have begun taking patients.
  • Forensic Wait List Results:

Ο 51% reduction over the last 42 weeks.

  • Civil Wait List Results:

Ο 43% reduction over the last 42 weeks.”

The I-TEAM responded to Walthall, asking who the new administrator is and when they started, and we are awaiting a response to those questions and others.

About the Author:

A Florida-born, Emmy Award winning journalist and proud NC A&T SU grad