Idaho faces possible class action over treatment center, alleging pattern of abuse

The families of residents at Southwest Idaho Treatment Center, or SWITC, are pursuing a class action against the state and the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare over alleged “abuse, neglect, illegal restraint and humiliation.”

The sister of Drew Rinehart — a man who died while at SWITC — called for “meaningful change” at the treatment center in a news release announcing the claims.

Rinehart’s death “is a devastating loss to our family,” Jamie Foruria, Rinehart’s sister, said in the release. “Had Drew received appropriate care, treatment and services from SWITC staff and management, he would still be with us.”

A notice of the class action said the families and their lawyers want to meet with state officials to talk about the allegations and a possible settlement that “appropriately addresses all issues.” They have not filed a lawsuit yet.

SWITC treats residents who have developmental delays and mental illnesses, as well as some serious health conditions. It is operated by the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare.

The department spokeswoman, Niki Forbing-Orr, said Thursday afternoon that officials had just received the notice and “are still reviewing it and assessing our options.”

The notice gives the state 10 business days to respond to the families’ meeting request, and 30 days for the meeting to take place.

The notice alleges: “Staff at SWITC continually and repeatedly inflicted abuse, neglect and humiliation upon residents, and SWITC leadership failed (to) curtail such conduct. Instead of providing needed support and care intended to allow their return (to) the community, their family and friends, and their homes, they were beaten, neglected, and abused. Some residents died from the abuse and neglect, and then SWITC staff tried to cover it up.”

The claim follows about two years of scrutiny, investigations and legal action regarding staff and managers’ conduct at SWITC.

DisAbility Rights Idaho last year said it found 49 cases of abuse and neglect during a yearlong investigation of SWITC. The class action claim references the disability advocacy nonprofit’s report, which was released in October.

DisAbility Rights said it found at least 14 residents were victims of confirmed abuse or neglect.

“In a facility with only about 23 residents, these are appalling numbers. In our opinion, these point to systemic failures,” said the nonprofit’s former Executive Director Jim Baugh.

The Department of Health and Welfare disputed some of the report’s claims and said it had already changed some policies based on the report’s recommendations.

Also last year, the state agreed to pay $10,000 to settle a lawsuit by the mother of Moses Rodriguez, a 24-year-old patient who died after living at SWITC. His mother claimed Rodriguez was neglected at the facility.

Erika Dreyer, mother of young resident Brandon Buchanan, said in the news release that SWITC “staff repeatedly placed Brandon in situations where he became injured, resulting in serious head injuries and scars.”

Dreyer said in the release that no staff members reported the incidents to authorities.

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Watchdog reporter Audrey Dutton joined the Statesman in 2011. Before that, she covered finance policy in Washington, D.C., during the financial crisis. She also worked as a reporter in Maryland, Minneapolis and New York. Audrey hails from Twin Falls.