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Nampa police investigate ‘suspicious death’ at state-run treatment center

The Southwest Idaho Treatment Center in Nampa has been the center of recent allegations of resident abuse. On Sunday, a resident was found dead in his bed — a death Nampa police say is suspicious.
The Southwest Idaho Treatment Center in Nampa has been the center of recent allegations of resident abuse. On Sunday, a resident was found dead in his bed — a death Nampa police say is suspicious.

Employees at a state-run treatment center in Nampa discovered a 27-year-old male resident dead in his bed on Sunday.

The Nampa Police Department responded at 11:30 a.m. to a call from the staff at the Southwest Idaho Treatment Center. Police at first thought the death may have been a homicide, but they are now investigating it as a suspicious death, said Lt. Eric Skoglund.

Skoglund declined to provide details about the investigation. An autopsy is scheduled for Tuesday.

Staff entered the man’s room Sunday morning shortly after 11 a.m. and found him unresponsive, said Idaho Department of Health and Welfare spokesman Chris Smith. The staff immediately started CPR and called 911, but the man was later declared dead, he said.

“Any further information on the resident’s death would be released by local authorities,” Smith said. “As per SWITC operating policy and procedures, an internal IDHW review is also underway.”

The death comes just weeks after the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare began investigating complaints of psychological and physical abuse of seven adult residents at SWITC. Six employees resigned or were fired earlier this month after the department finished its investigation. Two of the employees were the main culprits in the abuse, and the other four knew about the abuse but did not report it, the department said.

The department said its investigation found psychological abuse that included bullying and insulting residents, as well as physical abuse that included an employee slapping a resident and an employee putting inappropriate pressure on a resident’s jaw.

Nampa police also are pursuing criminal investigations of possible abuse.

The center, run by the Health and Welfare Department, provides assessment, training and treatment to people with developmental disabilities and mental illnesses. The goal is to help them transition into living in their communities.

SWITC has more than 100 permanent and temporary employees caring for 25 residents. Turnover is high, and up to 40 percent of staff members file injury claims each year.

The Bureau of Facility Standards, a division of the department, also investigated complaints at SWITC in July, the Idaho Statesman has learned.

The bureau’s inspectors found SWITC wasn’t complying with several federal rules. The problems were significant enough that SWITC was issued a provisional license until Nov. 16, with a warning to correct problems by Sept. 2 or risk losing Medicaid payments.

Inspectors learned that a staff member had been accused of calling a male resident a “dummy.” The administrator told inspectors that claim was unsubstantiated, but video recordings reviewed in the process of investigating the claim had turned up “additional concerns related to staffs’ behavior and language” and opened new investigations.

In addition, the inspection report said a staff member in March had ignored a resident banging her head on a countertop. The employee kept working on a computer. Two other employees heard the noise and “came running from another room and intervened,” the inspection report said. The incident was not reported to SWITC’s administrator until two days later.

Audrey Dutton: 208-377-6448, @audreydutton

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