SWITC

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

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Frankly, the new report that the Southwest Idaho Treatment Center in Nampa suffers from “organizational trauma” due to a “haphazard downsizing” and recent damaging events comes as no surprise.

Even though state Rep. Mat Erpelding, D-Boise, said, “This report is worse than I could have ever imagined,” we were not surprised.

Erpelding is right, though, when he said, “The Executive Summary makes it clear that SWITC failed every Idahoan. It is obvious from this report the state must fundamentally change the way it manages crisis care and patient treatment at the facility.”

The Idaho Press has been following the problems at SWITC for the past year-and-a-half, as reports of staff abuse and neglect and even patient deaths have been surfaced.

The newest report from the Office of Performance Evaluations this month to a legislative oversight committee provided damning testimony to the deep-seated systemic problems at that treatment center that has evolved since the 1950s from a state school and hospital with almost 1,000 patients to a residential behavioral treatment center geared toward transitioning residents back into the community. Today, SWITC houses roughly 20 patients in Nampa who need care for mental and behavioral disabilities.

Just before the report was released this month, reporting by Idaho Press reporter Emily Lowe revealed that two employees who reportedly falsified records and failed to check on a resident who died at the Southwest Idaho Treatment Center continued to work at the state-run facility. Instead of being fired, the employees received more training. The center’s decision to keep them on staff did not violate federal regulations, the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare concluded after receiving an anonymous complaint about the issue in October.

The resident, Drew Rinehart, died in August 2017 after employees left him unchecked for six hours, the Idaho Press previously reported. A coroner report states that a staff checklist had initials declaring Rinehart was checked every 30 minutes like he was supposed to be, but video footage reviewed by a deputy coroner and police showed that wasn’t true.

The fact that those two employees still work there is testament enough that SWITC still doesn’t have its act together.

We find it inexcusable that the state hasn’t fired employees who clearly didn’t do their jobs of keeping a resident safe — and alive — and further, falsified records to cover up the fact that they weren’t doing their jobs. Employees need more training to train them not to falsify records? No wonder the OPE report was so damning. What a mess.

Thank you to state Sen. Michelle Stennett, Sen. Cherie Buckner-Webb and Rep. Caroline Nilsson Troy who requested the OPE evaluation last year be done on the treatment center following various findings of abuse and neglect. We wonder where Nampa’s legislators were, and why it took senators from Ketchum and Boise and a representative from Lewiston to request the evaluation.

We are encouraged that new Health and Welfare Director Dave Jeppesen said he thought the OPE found clear conclusions and a platform to move forward. He appears to be taking the task seriously. “This type of work environment is unacceptable, and we must do better.”

Indeed. Tucked in the OPE report, and later reported by the Idaho Press, was the finding that background checks for unlicensed caregivers in Idaho aren’t effective at screening potential employees who have abused or neglected vulnerable adults in the past, illustrating further challenges in trying to keep the facility staffed.

We encourage our state legislators to continue to monitor the situation at SWITC, demand accountability and mandate results, not just accept lip service to improvements.

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