Auditors wary of child health, safety in Nevada care centers

Jan 17, 2023, 10:57 PM | Updated: Jan 18, 2023, 3:15 pm
This aerial photo shows the Northwest Academy, a private boarding school in Amargosa Valley, Nye Co...

This aerial photo shows the Northwest Academy, a private boarding school in Amargosa Valley, Nye County, Nev., on Friday, Feb. 15, 2019. Never Give Up Youth Healing Center is located on the former campus of the now-shuttered Northwest Academy. A yearlong inspection of child care centers across Nevada in 2022 uncovered a pattern of lax oversight and weak policies at five facilities, according to a report released this month. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal via AP)

(Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal via AP)

LAS VEGAS (AP) — A yearlong inspection of child care centers across Nevada in 2022 uncovered a pattern of lax oversight and weak policies at five facilities, according to a report released this month.

The review comes just three months after a U.S. Justice Department investigation that found Nevada was failing its children with behavioral disabilities by relying too heavily on institutionalization.

State legislative auditors identified “significant issues” ranging from unsanitary living conditions and children self-administering anti-psychotic medication to unsecured chemicals and tools. In one instance, according to their report, a hatchet was left out on a table at a foster care home. And in another, it said, a storage room with an outside lock was being used as a place to sleep.

During the inspections between January and November last year, auditors said they found piles of dirty clothing and trash in children’s rooms, clogged toilets, exposed pipes and a blood-stained pillow. They also said they reviewed inventory and files at the facilities and found missing medication, medical files and paperwork related to training and background checks for staff.

“If I was a parent, I would be furious,” state Democratic Sen. Marilyn Dondero Loop said last week at a meeting where auditors and state lawmakers discussed the findings. “It seems to me you shouldn’t have to complain to have things right. They should just be right. I hope moving forward, we’re taking care of these vulnerable children.”

In its 25-page report issued in October, the Justice Department said the state was failing “to ensure access to community-based services that could prevent institutionalization,” resulting in often repeated hospitalizations. Oftentimes, children were sent to long-term residential facilities outside the state, “exacerbating the harms of the segregation,” the DOJ report said.

The recent state review echoes that assessment, noting that as of June 2022, more than 100 children were placed in 14 different facilities across six states. For their report, state legislative auditors inspected 19 of 57 child care facilities regulated and licensed by the state.

The five institutions to raise alarms included a youth addiction treatment center in Las Vegas, a foster care program in Reno and the Never Give Up Youth Healing Center, an embattled residential psychiatric facility in rural Nevada that received poor ratings for health and safety from the state in 2020 during a similar review.

Surrounded by miles of open desert in Nye County, Never Give Up is located on the former campus of the now-shuttered Northwest Academy, the state’s only private boarding school before it was shut down on Valentine’s Day 2019, after the married owners were arrested on a combined 90 counts of child abuse and neglect.

Never Give Up was the only institution of the five facilities fined by the state last year amid the inspections, the report shows.

According to a copy of the sanction obtained by The Associated Press, the state Department of Health and Human Services imposed an $8,000 penalty in early September, citing a range of failures. A department spokesman confirmed Never Give Up paid the fine before the end of the year.

In a separate 65-page report outlining those issues, Health and Human Services said Never Give Up had failed to maintain its facility to “ensure the safety and well-being of its residents.” Among the issues observed in the report: sagging ceilings, exposed electrical wiring, splintered wooden desks in classrooms, broken deadbolts, missing emergency lights, loose smoke detectors and a cable hanging from a ceiling.

Never Give Up was required to submit a corrective plan, which Health and Human Services noted was “acceptable” in its sanction letter.

Since taking over the campus in Amargosa Valley about 90 miles (144 kilometers) outside Las Vegas, a riot has broken out at the psychiatric facility, law enforcement officials have launched an investigation into physical and sexual abuse allegations, and a man was arrested on charges that he raped a patient and sexually exploited two others while working at Never Give Up, the Review-Journal reported.

Never Give Up did not respond to an email request for comment from The Associated Press about the conditions detailed by the state in its latest report.

As part of its review, state auditors also inspected eight youth detention centers. According to the report, two of them were not properly screening children and teenagers “for sexual victimization or abusiveness” within 72 hours of their arrival, which is required by the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003. The auditors recommended proper risk assessment tools to both facilities, which are not identified in the report.

Last year, legislative auditors conducted a separate inspection of Nevada’s adult prison system and found widespread deficiencies in its use of force procedures, including an often understated number of incidents. Amid the report’s release, officials with the state Department of Corrections conceded that none of the audit’s 16 recommendations meant to improve facility operations had been completed.

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Auditors wary of child health, safety in Nevada care centers