Canyon County

6 state employees punished over abuse of Nampa treatment center residents

Southwest Idaho Treatment Center, Nampa
Southwest Idaho Treatment Center, Nampa Boise

Six workers are no longer employed at the Southwest Idaho Treatment Center (SWITC) in Nampa after an investigation into physical and psychological abuse of seven adult residents there, according to the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare.

“Disciplinary action up to and including termination has been taken against all the employees who were found to have engaged in conduct considered abuse and/or neglect,” IDHW officials announced in a news release Tuesday. “They have either voluntarily left employment or were terminated for cause.”

The center, run by IDHW, provides assessment, training and treatment to people with developmental disabilities and mental illnesses until they can safely transition back into their communities. It has 25 residents and 109 permanent and temporary employees.

The department’s investigation found two main culprits in the abuse. The four other employees were aware of the abuse and did not report it, according to the news release.

The abuse was primarily psychological, resulting in bullying and insulting residents, said department spokeswoman Niki Forbing-Orr. However, the investigation found three incidents of physical abuse, including an employee slapping a resident and an employee applying inappropriate pressure on a resident’s jaw.

The abuse was not sexual in nature, the department noted.

“Six employees engaging in this type of conduct is six employees too many,” agency Director Russ Barron said in Tuesday’s news release. “But I am pleased the investigation revealed the problem to be limited, and I am grateful to the quality SWITC employees who have continued to provide a safe and therapeutic environment for our residents there. The work environment at SWITC during this time was even more challenging than usual.”

An investigation into the abuse began in June when another employee reported concerns about resident safety. IDHW also notified the Nampa Police Department and detectives began their own investigation, eventually opening six cases. Nampa Sgt. Tim Riha said Tuesday that no arrests had been made yet.

“We wanted to be the first to put out there that this is happening because we want to be transparent, and we don’t want anybody to think we think this is OK. It’s not,” Forbing-Orr told the Statesman at the time.

The employees were initially placed on paid leave.

The Nampa campus has a difficult time retaining employees and keeping them safe, IDHW officials have said. In testimony advocating a bill to increase security at SWITC, a deputy administrator told lawmakers this past winter that up to 40 percent of the center’s staff members file injury claims every year, and turnover at that facility is double the rate across other IDHW job sites. The bill passed.

Reporters Ruth Brown and Kristin Rodine amd the Associated Press contributed.