Canyon County

State hospital was understaffed for 6 months leading up to abuse complaints

Southwest Idaho Treatment Center is just north of Interstate 84 in Nampa.
Southwest Idaho Treatment Center is just north of Interstate 84 in Nampa.

A state-run treatment center for adults with severe mental health and developmental issues was chronically understaffed for the first half of this year, according to a report from an inspection conducted in July.

The Southwest Idaho Treatment Center, or SWITC, did not have the minimum number of people needed on staff during about two-thirds of all shifts between January and mid-July. The understaffing was most extreme during late and graveyard shifts.

The center’s administrator told an inspector that “she was aware of low staffing issues but was not able to implement more staff due to budget constraints,” the inspection report said.

The staffing problem was “corrected within days of the survey,” Idaho Department of Health and Welfare spokeswoman Niki Forbing-Orr told the Statesman on Wednesday. “We hired more people, and then staff worked overtime to make sure we were meeting those ratios.”

Forbing-Orr said SWITC has maintained its minimum staffing levels since then.

In addition to understaffing, the inspection found problems such as a staff member calling a resident a “dummy,” and a staff member ignoring another resident who was banging her head on a countertop.

A third resident, who had multiple disabilities including autism and blindness, was physically attacked at least nine times by other residents between May and July. His guardian had asked to be notified if that ever happened, but the guardian was notified of only one attack.

SWITC is on a sprawling campus in north Nampa, with 25 residents and more than 100 full-time and part-time employees. It once was known as the Idaho State School and Hospital, and some people still refer to it by that name. The center is designed to house Idahoans who can’t live safely in the community.

The center is operated by the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare.

The July inspection was conducted by an arm of the department, the Bureau of Facility Standards.

Around the same time that month, the department announced that it was investigating operations at SWITC due to allegations of physical and psychological abuse of seven adult residents. When the investigation was completed, six employees “who were found to have engaged in conduct considered abuse and/or neglect” either quit or were fired, the state announced.

Nampa police also investigated several abuse complaints at SWITC at that time. Those cases have been passed on to prosecutors, according to a police spokesman.

Separately, the Bureau of Facility Standards inspection in July found truth to five of seven allegations that were leveled against SWITC by people filing complaints:

▪  Individuals were not provided with active treatment and behavioral services.

▪  Staff were not sufficiently trained to perform their duties competently.

▪  The facility did not provide sufficient numbers of trained staff to meet individuals’ needs.

▪  Guardians were not notified of significant events, and their participation was not promoted.

▪  Individuals did not receive preventative and general health services.

Audrey Dutton: 208-377-6448, @audreydutton