Nome youth home director ousted

Posted: Friday, January 04, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- The acting director of a Nome youth home was dismissed Wednesday after one week on the job and five days after the state removed the home's teen-age residents.

The Nome Receiving Home's board of directors unanimously voted to terminate Theresa Rismeyer days after she announced a series of new policies that rankled staffers, according to Norma Niclas, board president.

''Theresa had some very good ideas,'' Niclas said. ''But it was like too much, too soon.''

On Dec. 28, about eight disgruntled staffers angrily confronted Rismeyer in a scene witnessed by at least two teens from the home. Rismeyer described the confrontation as involving screaming and finger-pointing.

On the same day, an 18-year-old client complained to a state probation officer that a staffer had cursed at him, Niclas said. The probation officer reported the incident to the state Division of Family and Youth Services.

The state stopped referring clients to the home Dec. 28 out of concern that staff behavior at the facility could jeopardize teens, said Theresa Tanoury, DFYS director. The home provides safe haven for youths in troubled homes.

Three juveniles scheduled to stay at the home were moved to other facilities, prompting additional frustrations among staffers, said LaVerne Smith, another board member.

''People were short-tempered, upset,'' Smith said. ''We are working out the problems.''

State officials originally said DFYS temporarily shut down the facility a week ago. On Thursday, however, board members disputed the state's authority to close a private, nonprofit facility. Tanoury explained that state funding continues, but the state's freeze on referrals effectively empties the facility because the state pays for six of eight beds.

Staffers will receive additional training in anger management, recognizing signs of abuse and other skills, Smith said. The home will hire a new director but no staffers will be replaced, she said.

State officials expect an investigation into last Friday's incidents to wrap up within two weeks.

State officials say the facility has struggled to meet licensing requirements that address staff training. The home has also had three different directors in a little more than six months, including the last director who didn't make his six-month probation and was dismissed in December.

Rismeyer -- a teacher who moved to Nome from Wisconsin last August -- said she was trying to bring the home up to state standards so the facility didn't lose funding and have to close.

She also said she had noticed staff sleeping at work and treating teens with too much aggression. She suggested a ban on staff smoking on the premises, after spotting teens picking up cigarette butts that staffers tossed out.

Rismeyer said she wasn't surprised by her termination.

''Under this situation I couldn't have continued anyway. It's pretty crazy,'' she said.

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