Treatment center for NM boys under investigation

March 10, 2013 • State News

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — The use [auth] of restraints and other issues at a state-run treatment center in Albuquerque for mentally ill and violent boys has spurred investigations by the state Children, Youth and Families Department and the nonprofit Disability Rights New Mexico advocacy group.

The Albuquerque Journal reports ( that a youth at the Sequoyah Adolescent Treatment Center was physically restrained and forcibly sedated in November even though he had agreed to be medicated orally. A week later, a teenager was mechanically restrained to a bed at the center for more than two hours without the proper physician’s order.

The center’s goal is to help boys who are typically referred there by the justice system or a legal guardian to develop skills to transition back into the community.

Problems for the 36-bed secure treatment facility run by the state Department of Health don’t end there.

Sequoyah’s administrator has been temporarily reassigned, the center halted new admissions, and two former employees have filed whistle-blower lawsuits alleging they were retaliated against for having raised concerns about safety of the boys and staff at Sequoyah.

Restraints, whether chemically induced, physical or mechanical, are permitted when Sequoyah residents are at risk of harming themselves or others.

After an investigation of the November mechanical restraint incident, the state Children, Youth and Families Department ordered immediate corrective action to ensure each treating psychiatrist at Sequoyah is “well-informed and knowledgeable regarding the state and federal regulatory requirements” governing restraints, according to a Jan. 8 letter from a top Children, Youth and Families Department official obtained by the Journal.

The agency threatened to impose sanctions if the center didn’t “substantially” comply with the directives, including possible non-renewal or revocation of the center’s certification to treat youths.

Agency spokesman Henry Varela wouldn’t say last week whether any other investigations are under way at Sequoyah, whether any other incidents have been reported or whether the state agency has taken any action against Sequoyah since the letter was sent in January by the agency’s deputy secretary.

Those matters, he said in an email, are confidential by law. But he said both state agencies are working together to resolve the problems.

Disability Rights New Mexico said in a statement to the Journal last week that it began “a probable cause” investigation at Sequoyah in October 2012 — one month before the November restraint incidents occurred.

The group said it found probable cause to believe boys at the center may have been subject to abuse and neglect and that it’s investigating allegations of improper discharges from the center, unsafe restraint practices and inadequate restraint training for staff.

The advocacy group, which has federal investigative authority, said it had provided information about some of its findings to the health department, adding, “The Department has responded in a cooperative manner.”

In addition to reassigning its administrator, Sequoyah has beefed up its training for staff and amended its procedures in response to the Children, Youth and Families Department findings, said health department spokesman Kenny C. Vigil in an email.

In addition, the health department decided to end new admissions at this time, Vigil said.

But he said the health department has found no reason to discontinue its use of the private firm that has assumed the mental health treatment at Sequoyah at a cost of more than $60,000 a month.

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