Dr. James A. Duffee’s closest colleagues and confidants protested in front of the Rocking Horse Community Health Center on their lunch hour Wednesday, saying they’d learned that the center’s founder, won’t return to work.
Neither Duffee nor Rob Baker, president of the Rocking Horse board, would offer official comment, and the protesters would not disclose the source of the information.
Duffee hasn’t been allowed to see patients for about three weeks after a disagreement with the board about the center’s future.
Winkie Mitchell, Tracy Hawkes Engel and Huma Bashir were among 10 protesters with a combined 59 years of service at the center. Most are on the Behavioral Health staff that works most closely with Duffee, a child psychiatrist.
“We’re standing here united as a staff to show our support to Dr. Duffee,” said Crystal Rosenberg, a therapist who acted as the protesters’ spokeswoman.
Parent Melanie Bender, who once worked at Rocking Horse, said that since Oct. 16, when the board asked Duffee not to return to the center, she has been unable to have her son’s medication adjusted.
“It’s to the point now he’s injuring himself,” she said. “I’m forced to go to Columbus at this point, because we need help immediately.”
Although the center has other physicians, “nobody else is qualified” to see him, she said.
“Their motto is every child should have a medical home,” she added. “My child doesn’t right now.”
Therapist Amy Jones said that children can be referred to hospitals in Dayton and Columbus, but said “the waiting list there is eight weeks. And the reality is, the kids can’t wait that long.”
Staffer Jenna Birdsell added that because “many of our kids are without transportation” to go out of town “we need them to be treated locally.”
Rosenberg said of Duffee, “He has a great understanding of children with developmental disabilities” and other special challenges, Rosenberg said.
“We are guided by him … very much feel his loss right now and are struggling with the level of care that will be provided,” Rosenberg continued.
“Our children need Dr. Duffee,” Bashir said. “And I think we’re all standing up for a principle here that he was unjustly fired.”
Founded by Duffee in 1999, Rocking Horse now serves 13,500 patients in more than 52,000 visits a year. Designated a Federally Qualified Health Center, it recently finished a nearly $8 million addition in preparation for expansion of Medicaid benefits.
Former CEO Dana Engle left the center last month for a position at Madison County Hospital, and the center is searching for a CEO to lead it into the next phase of its development.
Engel said aside from his personal strengths as a physician, Duffee “spearheads early childhood mental health for the county. He’s treating those vulnerable children. We worry these kids will not continue to get the quality care they deserve. There’s no other specialist we can look too.”
Heather Reisinger, who in high school worked as a medical assistant at Rocking Horse and in her 14th year is now a nurse, called the news “an absolute devastation to the community and kids.”
“He’s way more than a doctor. He’s my work father. He’s mentored me,” she said.
Mitchell, who has spent 40 years working with children in Springfield, confessed, “It’s hard to stay,” adding, “I just want to cry.”
Parent Laura Hufford repeated what many have said since the rift between Duffee and the board surfaced: “Dr. Duffee is Rocking Horse.”