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  • Wesley Baucom

Whistleblower makes claims against Missouri Institute of Mental Health

by Wesley Baucom

About two months ago, The Current was reached out to by David von Nordenheim, a former data analyst for the Missouri Institute of Mental Health (MIMH). The organization is dedicated to mental health research within the University of Missouri system, and operates based on funds from government grants. Nordenheim had an entry-level position within the organization, but he saw some things that concerned him. He has since filed a report with the University of Missouri’s internal investigations, and as of now is ongoing.

Nordenheim felt that his job was straightforward---a little too straightforward according to him. For one, he felt overqualified for his position. As a data analyst, he’s trained to recognize data trends across a vast period of time, and to critically analyze findings on any project. However the tasks he claims were given to him were menial, he often simply filled out basic reports that took no time or effort. Often he would finish his daily tasks within a few hours of arriving at the offices. Nordenheim claims that his hours worked didn’t fulfill his grant requirements of 40 hours a week. According to two files presented by Nordenheim, MIMH employees are required to fill out a full 40 hour work, even if they didn’t. In bold letters circled on the page, it reads “Effort must always total 100%”, with the 100% meaning a full forty-hours for the week. Nordenheim also presented a spreadsheet where he recorded his actual hours worked, and on average, he only worked two hours a day.

Nordenheim also has concerns over how MIMH conducts research, specifically in regards to funding. He shared a record with The Current, showing the gross expenditures of MIMH within the 2019 fiscal year in which he worked. The record shows that lab and general supplies for research sat at $36,000, whereas professional consultation fees exceeds 400,000. However, the specific grants for these budgets couldn’t be obtained, and were not provided. So, without knowledge of how the grants should have been spent, I reached out to both Steve Walentik, Public Relations Manager at UMSL, as well as Dr. Christopher Spilling, head of Research and Economic & Community Development at UMSL, who also oversees MIMH.

They couldn’t comment on Nordenheim’s claims specifically, as it would threaten the ongoing investigation, they did clarify most of Nordenheim’s claims. Walentik said that the budgetary spending reflects a budget approved by agencies in charge of the grants, and the document shows appropriate funds. Dr. Spilling furthered this, saying that each expenditure made by the organization requires a follow-up report based on timeframes that depend on the specific grants so that the organization remains accountable for their spending. Dr. Spilling also went on to say that MIMH does more than just lab research, a lot of the consultation comes from training employees on conduct. He gives a specific example on a workshop on suicide prevention, and how mental health employees should respond in crisis situations, and consultation is a part of this process.

As far as Nordenheim’s hours are concerned, it doesn't necessarily point to any sort of fraud. Dr. Spilling says that employees are accountable for their hours worked, not the other way around, since the employees are salaried and not paid hourly. The only case where this would lead to any sort of wrongdoing, is if a researcher falsely reported findings in their research, and that would go to a senate hearing if it were a Federal Grant. Dr. Spilling was unable to comment on Nordenheim’s specific situation, but that’s not to say that he didn’t have any thoughts on the matter. “Let me tell you one thing without using any names. There are some people that work on grants that are also not entirely familiar with the process because they’re not entirely familiar with the process because they’re not at a low enough level. They’re not the Principle Investigators, and are not fully apprised of how grants work,” Dr. Spilling said.

According to Nordenheim, there are still plans for him to work for the University, just not within MIMH. His claims are still being investigated by UMSL, and the results of which have yet to be revealed. There are many other claims that Nordenheim made, but they could not be backed up with further research. The only thing to do now is to wait, and see what happens as the investigation continues.


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