SWITC

White Hall at the Southwest Idaho Treatment Center serves as the administrative building for the facility’s campus.

NAMPA — Six families of residents at the Southwest Idaho Treatment Center in Nampa filed a class action lawsuit Wednesday against the state of Idaho and the Department of Health and Welfare for the “widespread abuse, neglect and mistreatment inflicted on current and former residents” at the Nampa center.

The lawsuit comes in the same week the Southwest Idaho Treatment Center’s advisory board passed two motions recommending alterations the treatment model for SWITC clients.

The families in the lawsuit are asking the state to change how it runs SWITC, so that residents are integrated into the community as soon as possible. Currently, 16 residents live at the Nampa campus.

“The Southwest Idaho Treatment Center as it currently exists should no longer exist,” Shamus O’Meara, an attorney with a Minnesota law firm representing the families, told the Idaho Press Friday.

The lawsuit highlights several instances of abuse and neglect from previous years, including the wrongful death of SWITC resident, Drew Rinehart, who died in August 2017 after being unchecked for hours in his room. The staff logged they had checked on him; those employees were never fired, according to a previous Idaho Press report.

One issue the lawsuit brings up, is that the Department of Health Welfare, which runs the center, has failed to provide an Olmstead Plan, a U.S. Supreme Court decision which, according to the lawsuit, mandates the defendants “to develop and implement a working plan to ensure that people with disabilities are living, learning, working and enjoying life in the most integrated setting appropriate to their needs and desires.”

The lawsuit is demanding the abuse and neglect that reportedly has occurred at the center stop.

“The Department of Health and Welfare takes all allegations made about the health and safety of individuals with developmental disabilities very seriously. The department has communicated with the plaintiffs’ attorney and remains willing to discuss and attempt to resolve the plaintiffs’ concerns without resorting to court action. The department is also committed to ensuring that individuals at the Southwest Idaho Treatment Center receive the care and respect they need and deserve,” according to a statement from the department.

ADVISORY BOARD

The SWITC advisory board has been meeting regularly for the past several months to address concerns at the treatment center and potential treatment models. The board met Tuesday and approved two motions that suggested ways the Department of Health and Welfare should move forward with treating residents at SWITC.

Instead of using SWITC as the treatment center for the clients, which has to stabilize new clients while helping others transition back into the community, the new model would separate the two. If a client’s health and safety needs could not be met in the community, instead of being sent to SWITC — like clients currently are — they would first go to an assessment, observation and stabilization center. A center like this currently does not exist. Here they would receive psychiatric and medical care and get behavior management. It’s estimated clients would stay at the center up to 180 days.

Then, the clients would be moved to a step-down treatment center, where they could stay for up to three years while they learn skills for community living. Currently, residents stay at SWITC for an average of five years before being released to the community, said Stephanie Perry with Family and Community Services. Once SWITC clients are ready to go back into the community, it’s very hard to find them a place to live, Branden Smalley with Progressive Behavior Systems said.

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The treatment model would also have a secure option for clients who are found to be violent.

This option would add two more community service options, which include adult autism services and specialized skilled nursing. That would allow some of SWITC’s current clients an opportunity to be cared for while still being in the community.

Of the 16 clients currently at SWITC, one would be placed in the assessment and observation, nine would likely be placed in the step-down treatment, two in adult autism services and four in specialized skilled nursing.

Board members also passed a motion that would allow civilly committed, restorative or voluntary clients to be placed in treatment with a due process for discharging the client when treatment team is at an impasse with the client’s guardian.

The motions will now be presented as recommendations for the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare. The department will determine an approach to pursue those needs.

The advisory board will meet again in August.

Though talk of an advisory board meeting had been in the works for some time, the incidents in 2017 relating to SWITC likely made the process happen faster than it might have otherwise, board chairwoman Miren Unsworth said during Tuesday’s meeting.

COMPLICATIONS

The claims in the lawsuit follow multiple investigations into SWITC, including the DisAbility Rights Idaho’s report released in October 2018 which found that the center’s “inadequate response to acts of abuse and neglect” has created a negative cycle “affecting every person at the facility from the moment they are admitted until their discharge or, in some cases, death.”

In January, the Office of Performance Evaluations released a study on the center that found “management does not have an effective approach to solving problems.”

Last year, Grace Rodriguez was offered $10,000 in a wrongful death lawsuit of her son who died days after leaving SWITC. She told the Idaho Press that her son’s health deteriorated rapidly during his stay there.

The families are seeking systemic and institutional change in the operation and management of SWITC. The claims will also seek monetary damages.

Emily Lowe is the Canyon County public safety reporter. Follow @EmLoweJourno on Twitter

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