A new legislative report finds that an embattled state-run facility for the mentally ill is “a vestige of an old treatment model that is no longer tenable.”
The report says that the Southwest Idaho Treatment Center (SWITC) lacks a long-term vision for how to care for its 17 mentally ill clients as it transitioned from a decades-long practice of institutionalization to helping its patients re-enter the community.
In 2017, one patient there committed suicide after he wasn’t checked on for hours. That same year, six workers were either fired or resigned after state health officials discovered they had abused or neglected patients.
Department of Health and Welfare Director Dave Jeppesen says he feels the center has stabilized enough to not need dramatic intervention, like moving patients elsewhere.
“Is everything solved? No, but are we at a level where I think we could manage it until we get to a long-term solution? I’m feeling better about that,” says Jeppesen, who took over his cabinet position less than two weeks ago.
The report recommends state health officials set a strategic plan on how to care for these patients and slow extensive staff turnover.
From January through September 2018, SWITC hired 48 employees, but lost 64. Nine of them either resigned because of a work-related injury or were laid off for medical reasons, according to the report. Twenty-eight positions that directly deal with patients were vacant as of last September.
The report says that’s not uncommon in this sector of the healthcare industry and described in detail factors that may have led to untreated psychological trauma.
Staff at SWITC told investigators they are spit on by the patients daily and assaulted on a weekly basis. One pregnant employee says she received threats to kill her unborn child, according to the report.
While the investigation concluded the worker’s compensation process went smoothly, psychological damage went untreated. In multiple instances, long-term staff members “snapped and resigned after substantiated findings of abuse or mistreatment.”
It also says the legislature should consider banning people found to have abused vulnerable adults from working there as an unlicensed caregiver, among many other recommendations.
House Minority Leader Mat Erpelding (D-Boise) co-chairs the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee, which ordered this report last year. He says the report shows Idaho’s government has “shortchanged” these citizens and that change is needed – fast.
“The new governor has a little bit of room to work and get this thing straightened up, but it has to happen right away. Having a strategic plan by 2020 doesn’t solve the problem that the 17 patients are having right now,” Erpelding says.
Jeppesen says his agency embraces all of these recommendations. Investigators did point to progress made over the past year or so.
There's a new, intensive training program for incoming staff, though the department doesn't test workers at the end of the session to make sure those skills are retained. A recent state survey of the center also returned its best result in a couple decades, according to the Idaho Press.
The Joint Legislative Oversight Committee forwarded the report to both the House and Senate Health and Welfare committees for consideration.
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