BANGOR — A major mental health nonprofit is hiring a consultant to assess its workplace culture after complaints by former employees of toxic and demeaning treatment by the organization’s CEO.

The assessment comes in response to high staff turnover at NAMI Maine, a chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, former employees told the Bangor Daily News.

Fifteen former employees told the newspaper that Jenna Mehnert, NAMI Maine’s chief executive officer, demeaned employees in front of their colleagues and escalated interactions she perceived as challenging her authority. At least two employees reported concerns about Mehnert to the organization’s board, the newspaper reported.

NAMI Maine supports people with serious mental illnesses and their families through direct services, advocacy and education. Their work is largely funded through government grants.

Since March 2018, 17 employees have left the organization, according to an internal complaint written in September. NAMI Maine employs between 20 and 25 people at their office in Hallowell.

Mehnert denied creating a hostile work environment. “As the agency becomes stronger,” she wrote, “it appears some former staff have decided to attack me rather than turn the focus inward to examine how their constant gossiping and lack of professional accountability were the actual barrier to what we are building now,” she said.

The board’s president Amy Hodgdon told the newspaper in a statement, “Any concerns brought to the board by previous staff have been respectfully evaluated and discussed with Ms. Mehnert in an effort to implement new approaches intended to build a stronger entity.”

NAMI Maine experienced significant staffing issues before Mehnert was hired as CEO in 2013, including an employee who was convicted of creating child pornography and another who embezzled $250,000 from the organization, the newspaper reported.

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