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Juvenile Patients "Riot" at Intermountain Hospital 

Unrest, management issues plague juvenile treatment hospital

Editor's Note: This story has been corrected. Please see correction at bottom. Thank you.

Accusations of patient mismanagement continue to plague Intermountain Hospital. Several sources, including one parent, have said that what they call a "patient riot" broke out at the Boise psychiatric facility earlier this month.

John Kent's son, Andrew, 16, is being treated "for four or five different diagnoses" from ADD and ADHD to bipolar illness and PTSD, with "an escalation of medications, sometimes some very dangerous ones," at Intermountain. Kent lives in Hillsboro, Oregon. Based on his child's first-hand accounts, Kent said there was "a full-on riot inside the facility."

The incident has been denied by hospital management, who told BW nothing of the sort took place. Due to patient confidentiality concerns, officials could not elaborate.

"It was wild," Kent said in a telephone interview. "The whole place just went into chaos. The kids in one sector, where my son was, rioted. They tore down the ceilings and ripped some huge metal door off its hinges."

Kent said his son has been present for several incidents, and has reported them to his father.

"He also told me of several other incidents, including a 'cat fight' between two females that he tried to stop because the people who run the place just turned the other way and did not try to stop it," Kent said.

Boise Police Department Captain Jim Kearns confirmed, in a telephone interview, that "we did respond to a problem there" at that time, but said he could not provide further details because adolescents were involved and arrests may be pending.

Similarly, requests for access to public records were denied because as Nina Wheeler, Records Custodian for the BPD put it in an official letter, "this case is still under investigation with the BPD. Disclosure of said record would interfere with enforcement proceedings."

According to Kent, his son Andrew blames the uproar on an unannounced change of personnel. Kent also complained about ongoing difficulties he has experienced trying to reach his son by phone.

"It's like trying to get a hold of someone at the Guantanamo Bay prison" he said. "They hung up on me for the first four days that Andrew was there. They kept twisting around the health privacy laws."

Several therapists promised to call Kent back for updates on his son's progress, but, he said, "I never ever received any single call from that facility."

"They never sent me letters, e-mails, nothing, even though they're supposed to provide that under Oregon law," he said.

These sorts of grievancess have plagued the privately-operated Intermountain Hospital for several years now, through a series of three directors. Inspectors from the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare's Bureau of Facility Standards (BFS) have issued citations concerning understaffing, lack of proper patient supervision, violation of patient civil rights, physical and verbal abuse, sexual assault and inadequate discharge planning. Several mental health professionals in the Treasure Valley criticize Intermountain for what they call the institution's "preferred procedure--the wallet biopsy." The hospital, critics said, deems patients "cured" when they run out of insurance funds to pay for treatment (BW, News, Sept. 18, 2002, January 26, 2005, April 12, 2005).

Earlier this year, Intermountain came under the ownership of Psychiatric Solutions Inc., which controls over 6,500 hospital beds in psychiatric facilities throughout the nation. Former Intermountain CEO Richard Failla was abruptly replaced by Richard A. Bangert, following controversies over the alleged misuse of electroconvulsive shock therapy and other issues.

Bangert, who took over the post several weeks ago, said reports of patient unrest were not accurate.

"There was no riot," Bangert said. "There just wasn't that."

"I don't think that there's anything I can add because we need to maintain the confidentiality of our patients," he said. "That's out of respect, especially in a psychiatric hospital, between patient and doctor. That's certainly important to me." Bangert invited BW to speak with him directly and said, "we'll always shoot straight."

Some staff members of Intermountain, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of losing their jobs, said that some workers have already been fired, suspended or, in the words of one staffer, "been 'encouraged' to take time off" indefinitely.

One informant e-mailed, "Help please. Intermountain is out of control again. The residential treatment unit is being expanded, but there is no control of the kids. Last evening, a riot happened on the main unit and the police were called in."

A second message went further to state that "The boys' unit (main) 'rioted' at about 8 p.m. The police were called and six officers responded. There was a female officer who took down a young man and he was hurt. The staff was told not to include the police arriving in the children's files." Sources also said that of six patient records they had examined, several had been re-written to downplay any situation that might warrant police intervention.

This source followed up with a third report that "last evening [July 6th] there was another 'riot' on the East unit. The doctor attending [Dr. Eric Simmons] spent 2-3 hours writing up new med orders and restraint records. The staff was there until 3-4 this morning."

The message went on to allege that a senior staff member was subsequently suspended for speaking up about these situations.

A second confidential source, who identified themselves as an administrator at Intermountain, attributed the alleged incident described above to a sudden change of staff working with adolescents in Intermountain's NU START Chemical Dependency Recovery Program. The majority of patients in that program come from California and Alaska, and bonded with some individual staff members, they explained. For patients who were far away from home, bonds like those became important, the source said.

This source reported bed sheets hanging outside the unit on the afternoon of Wednesday, July 5, protesting against patient mistreatment.

Other staff say Intermountain's "profit-first orientation" creates continued problems with understaffing, as evidenced by thereliance on the Boise Police Department for security.

Correction: In the news feature two weeks ago (BW, News, "Juvenile Patients 'Riot' at Intermountain Hospital," July 19), we stated that former Intermountain Hospital CEO Richard Failla had been "replaced" at Intermountain following controversies over the alleged misuse of electroconvulsive shock therapy. To clarify, we were not saying that Failla had been fired, or that the alleged misuse of ECT took place in Boise. This correction appeared in the August 2 edition of BW.

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