Smyth gives up daily control at Maryville

Chicago Sun Times/July 11, 2003
by Chris Fusco and Tim Novak

A day after Illinois child-welfare officials threatened to remove all state wards from Maryville Academy's main campus, the Rev. John P. Smyth said Thursday he is giving up daily control of the Roman Catholic institution he has headed for more than four decades.

Dr. James Guidi, a well-liked psychologist who runs Maryville's psychiatric hospital, will become program and clinical manager for all 21 Maryville campuses, Maryville's board announced.

Guidi will report directly to Smyth, who remains Maryville's executive director, leading some child advocates to wonder whether anything will change at Maryville.

The institution has been under fire since last summer following a Chicago Sun-Times investigation into its handling of a suicide, sexual assaults and other violent incidents at its 270-bed Des Plaines campus.

Smyth, 69, said he will not interfere with Guidi's decisions. Smyth's right-hand man, the Rev. David Ryan, will stay on as Smyth's assistant.

"Dr. Guidi is in charge of all the programs," Smyth said. "I'll still be a consultant to Dr. Guidi . . . but he's going to be in charge. And I hope you'll ask him six months from now--ask him if he's in charge--and I bet you he'll say 'Yes.' "

Guidi, who will get a substantial raise from his $81,600-a-year job heading Maryville's Scott Nolan Center psychiatric hospital, welcomes the challenge.

"I've been told by the board that they will not interfere with the clinical and programmatic decisions I make," said Guidi, who is credited with reforming the Nolan Center during the past two years. "If they give me the tools, I think we stand a good chance of bringing Maryville back to what it was."

Smyth's decision to lessen his role at Maryville came after he was urged to retire by Cook County Public Guardian Patrick T. Murphy and Benjamin S. Wolf, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union who is monitoring the state's child-welfare system under a federal court order. Cardinal Francis George, who could transfer Smyth out of Maryville, has continued to support the former Notre Dame basketball star. "He'd like to see everything settle down, but he's 100 percent behind me," Smyth said.

Murphy and Wolf felt that Smyth was resisting efforts to reform his former orphanage, which has grown into the state's largest home of last resort for abused and abandoned kids, many with psychiatric problems.

The new position filled by Guidi had been on the drawing board for some time. Smyth also plans to hire a business manager for Maryville within two weeks.

"We've been looking for these two people for about nine months now," Smyth said. "It's just that maybe I put it off."

Murphy has called Maryville "a financial mess," and two monitors for the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services have called for a financial audit of the institution, which got $62 million last year from taxpayers. Maryville also has a $100 million endowment.

Smyth said he welcomes any scrutiny of Maryville's books and plans to comply with other demands the monitors made in a report that criticized the institution's treatment model as outdated. DCFS Director Bryan Samuels said Wednesday the monitors' suggestions must be met within 60 days or the state will remove 160 wards it has at Maryville's main campus.

"I have no problem with the 10 or 11 things DCFS has put into the contracts," Smyth said. "We'll meet them within 60 days, and that's plenty of time."

Those issues include the audit, staffing levels and better employee-retention policies for Maryville.

Before Maryville's troubles can be solved, Murphy said it must decide whether it wants to return to its days as a home for troubled teenagers or if it wants to care for children with psychiatric problems. Maryville has been trying to do both, but has done neither one very well, Murphy said. "Once they make that decision, Guidi can do a good job,'' Murphy said.

Smyth acknowledged it might be time for Maryville to scale back.

"That's what I have to talk to DCFS about," he said. If Samuels "wants less beds, we'll give him less beds."

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