Were vulnerable Idahoans abused at Nampa treatment center?

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

The investigation by the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare involves allegations of physical and psychological abuse of seven adult residents at the Southwest Idaho Treatment Center just north of Interstate 84 in Nampa.

The department is investigating operations throughout the sprawling campus, but the allegations appear to be focused on employees assigned to one shift in one section of one building, according to a DHW news release Wednesday. Employees implicated in the allegations were immediately placed on paid leave, officials said.

“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,” Health and Welfare Public Information Manager Niki Forbing-Orr told the Statesman.

Nampa police also are investigating. Lt. Eric Skoglund said Wednesday that police have five open cases regarding SWITC staff. Reports started come in late last month, he said, and no arrests have been made.

“These actions go against everything we stand for and are being treated with the utmost urgency,” Health and Welfare Director Russ Barron said in a news release. “The safety of residents is our highest concern and priority, especially in this challenging environment.

“We follow procedures that ensure the safety and dignity of those in our care,” Barron said. “I am extremely disappointed that some staff have not followed those procedures. They will be disciplined, including dismissal if the circumstances are warranted.”

Initially 12 employees were placed on leave in the wake of the allegations, but some of those workers have been cleared and are back on the job, Forbing-Orr said. No tort claims have been filed against the department in this case, she said.

SWITC, run by Health and Welfare, aims to provide assessment, training and treatment to people with intellectual disabilities until they can be safely transitioned back into their communities, according to the news release. The center has 25 residents and 109 permanent and temporary employees.

The Nampa campus, which houses adults with developmental disabilities and mental illnesses, has a difficult time retaining employees and keeping them safe, DHW 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 SWITC staff members file injury claims every year, and turnover at that facility is double the rate across other DHW job sites. The bill passed.

Reporter Ruth Brown contributed