Senate Report Uncovers Disturbing Trends in Child Behavioral Health Facilities

By: Sam Watanuki | Published: Jun 12, 2024

The Senate Finance Committee recently released a troubling report revealing widespread issues in child behavioral health facilities.

These findings spotlight a critical problem in the U.S. care system for vulnerable children. The report results from a two-year investigation into facilities run by major companies including Universal Health Services, Acadia Healthcare, Vivant Behavioral Healthcare, and Devereux Advanced Behavioral Health.

Overcrowding and Understaffing

The report highlights that many facilities are overcrowded and understaffed, severely impacting the quality of care. Companies often pack these centers to capacity, failing to hire enough qualified staff to meet the children’s needs.

A hospital bed in a room near a window.

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This situation leads to unsafe environments where children are more likely to experience neglect and abuse.

Profit Over Care

A significant issue identified is the profit-driven model of these companies. The facilities rely heavily on per diem payments from Medicaid and other sources.

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By maximizing occupancy and minimizing staff costs, these companies prioritize financial gains over the well-being of the children in their care.

Inadequate Training and Supervision

The report found a lack of proper training and supervision for staff. In many cases, employees are not adequately prepared to handle the complex needs of the children, leading to dangerous practices.

A close-up of a stethoscope lying on a hospital bed

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For instance, at an Acadia facility in Arkansas, staff improperly used seclusion and chemical restraints over 100 times in just 30 days.

Rampant Abuse and Neglect

Alarming cases of abuse and neglect are documented throughout the report. At a Universal Health facility in Oklahoma, a staff member admitted to molesting a girl and was merely transferred to another unit, rather than being terminated and reported to authorities.

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Such incidents reflect an inexcusable systemic failure to protect vulnerable children from harm.

Use of Chemical Restraints

The misuse of chemical restraints is another critical issue. Facilities were found to often resort to injecting children with calming drugs, even when they were already calm.

A close-up of a person’s hand with an IV attached as seen in a hospital.

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This overuse of medication not only violates federal regulations but also poses serious health risks to the children.


Civil Rights Violations

The Senate report identifies numerous civil rights violations in these facilities. Overuse of seclusion and chemical restraints are just the tip of the iceberg.

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The report details other graphic allegations of physical and sexual assaults by staff, highlighting a pervasive culture of abuse.


Calls for Legislative Changes

The Senate Finance Committee is pushing for significant legislative changes to address these issues.

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Key recommendations include stricter enforcement of staffing requirements, enhanced use of security cameras, and comprehensive oversight mechanisms to ensure facilities adhere to federal regulations.


Industry Responses

In response to the report, companies like Acadia Healthcare have acknowledged the need for improvement. Acadia stated that the patient stories are heartbreaking and committed to ensuring all patients receive compassionate care.

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However, Universal Health Services disputes the report’s characterization, claiming that such incidents are rare.


Historical Context and High-Profile Cases

The investigation was spurred by high-profile cases of abuse and death in these facilities.

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For example, in 2020, 16-year-old Cornelius Frederick died after being restrained by staff at a Michigan facility for throwing a sandwich. This tragic incident shows the urgent need for reform.


Role of Oversight Agencies

The report criticizes state and federal oversight agencies for their inadequate response to these issues.

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Often, violations lead to minimal repercussions, allowing facilities to continue their harmful practices. The Senate Committee is calling for more robust and consistent enforcement of regulations.


A Call to Action

The Senate Finance Committee’s report serves as a massive call to action for policymakers, advocates, and the public.

A person holding the hand of another who is in the hospital.

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Addressing these systemic issues is crucial to safeguarding the rights and well-being of children in residential treatment facilities. It is a collective responsibility to ensure these children receive the care they deserve.