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Report finds big improvements for Southwest Idaho Treatment Center

The Idaho State Capitol building taken from an upward angle. you can see the American flag, the POW MIA flag and the Idaho State flag.
James Dawson
Boise State Public Radio News

Four years after a legislative report blasted a state facility housing severely mentally ill patients, a checkup finds significant improvement.

The 2019 report on the Southwest Idaho Treatment Center (SWITC) found severe problems related to patient abuse and neglect by staff, as well as injuries to employees. SWITC manages the care of severely mentally ill patients.

Ryan Landgrill, an analyst with the Office of Performance Evaluation who oversaw the original and follow up reports, noted bumps along the way, including failing a federal inspection three times in 2021 amid staffing shortages and other issues.

But, he said, that soon changed in 2022.

“SWITC had its first back-to-back deficiency-free annual inspections for the first time this century, if not ever,” Landgrill told the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee Friday.

Staffing shortages remain a sore spot for the facility, according to the new report, despite pay raises approved by legislators in recent years. A tight labor market has been challenging for many employers over the past few years.

Aside from that factor, the report outlined, “Low pay relative to risk, insufficient job expectations and raining, injuries, and burnout were all cited,” as reasons for frequent turnover.

Injuries to staff have dropped by nearly two-thirds from 2019 to 2022, though, saving hundreds of thousands of dollars in worker’s compensation costs.

The report attributes that partially to a new team of registered behavior technicians who can immediately respond when patients become unruly. Staff also said several long-term patients who frequently injured others had left the facility.

SWITC now investigates all allegations of abuse – something it hadn’t previously done.

Administrators are also implementing their own strategic plan and developing new ways to care for patients depending on how severe their behavior is.

Two recommendations made by the Office of Performance Evaluation in 2019, which are out of SWITC’s control, have not yet been acted on by legislators. The first would create a registry for unlicensed care workers that would track abuse allegations – similar to databases that track the conduct of licensed healthcare workers, like nurses.

“Which then, when those people look for another job working with children or vulnerable adults, a background check would’ve flagged that record for that employer,” Landgrill said.

The final recommendation would let caregivers retire early, like police, given their injury risks on the job. Both of those proposals would need legislative approval to be implemented.

Follow James Dawson on Twitter @RadioDawson for more local news.

Copyright 2023 Boise State Public Radio

I cover politics and a bit of everything else for Boise State Public Radio. Outside of public meetings, you can find me fly fishing, making cool things out of leather or watching the Seattle Mariners' latest rebuilding season. If you have a tip, please get in touch!

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