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‘Rape Hospital’ in Midvale did not report years of sex assault, police say

Posted at 9:45 PM, Sep 07, 2023

This story is part one of a three-part series, FOX 13 Investigates: “The Rape Hospital."

To watch the second installment, click HERE; for the third, click HERE.

Patients at a psychiatric hospital in Midvale have been getting sexually assaulted for years, and employees say they were trained to keep it from police.

Highland Ridge Hospital treats both adults and minors. It’s a for-profit facility owned by Acadia Healthcare.

Some investigators and employees refer to Highland Ridge Hospital as “The Rape Hospital” because of how frequently patients are assaulted and how infrequently the staff report those cases to police.

It’s a story FOX 13 News began to reveal more than a year and a half ago. Our team has spoken with at least 12 patients and 24 employees in compiling this report.

Even though state investigators have labeled the problem as “habitual,” the Utah Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) has given Highland Ridge Hospital second, third, and fourth chances to stay open.

The facility has had its license revoked three times since 2019 but has never had to shut its doors.

Instead, DHHS issued a "conditional license."

Emily Rose worked at Highland Ridge Hospital as a behavioral health technician from 2018 to 2020.
“I probably knew of about 10 to 15 (sexual assaults) while I was there,” Rose said. “I’ve worked at other facilities. I know that there is a way better standard out there.”

Officers with Unified Police Department have responded to more than 100 cases at Highland Ridge Hospital since 2019. More than half of those cases are from someone reported to be physically or sexually violent.

  • 17 documented reports of sexual assault  
  • 31 documented reports of assault 

State law outlines mandatory reporting requirements for workers at healthcare facilities in cases of assault and sexual assault. In the majority of sexual assault cases, documents show victims or their family members called police — not Highland Ridge Hospital employees.
“I was told verbatim not to call 911,” Rose said. “If anything was happening in the building, we were to deal with it ourselves within the building — never outside authority, no matter what. Even if it was an assault, a sexual assault, anything. We weren’t allowed to call 911.”

UPD officers also documented similar concerns after interviewing employees.

According to one police report, an employee told officers that “providers within the hospital are threatened with being ‘fired’ if they report such incidents, due to it affecting the hospital reputation... (He) did not want to provide more information (because) he was scared of retaliation by administration.”

Several other employees at Highland Ridge Hospital said they experienced the same “unwritten rule” about 911 calls.

“It’s awful that sexual abuse happens, and it’s still happening,” said one employee. “Highland Ridge is basically a holding pen. You put them there, you put them on medication, and you leave them... Really, I think they need to shut down the hospital and start over.”

Michael Barton was 15 years old when he went to Highland Ridge Hospital as a patient. He said some patients grabbed him, groped him, tried to have sex with him, and walked into his room while he showered. He said there was no supervision.

"The staff members there just didn’t do anything. They physically saw,” Barton said. “It felt like they normalized it... The stuff that happened, it just makes me uncomfortable.”

Whitney Godfrey was 14 years old when she was at Highland Ridge Hospital. She said she knew about other kids having sex.

“The nurse wasn’t even in the same room,” Godfrey said. “That’s how sexual assaults happen.”

Courtney Holder-White checked herself into Highland Ridge Hospital in 2021. Immediately, she said she noticed differences between the facility and others she had been to.

“Patients have free access to each other’s rooms,” she said. “I went there for treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder, and I was traumatized the whole time I was there.”

“There were times where I would go down there and nobody was on the unit and patients were just wandering around,” an employee said.

Amy Robinson, a mother from Arizona, said she didn’t know her minor son had sex until after he got home months later. When she asked about it, she said a Highland Ridge Hospital employee remembered the incident.

“He was like, ‘Oh! I thought you knew about that!’” Robinson recalled. “‘They must not have actually reported it!’”

“Did they report this to the police or Child Protective Services?” asked FOX 13 News investigative reporter Adam Herbets.

“Nope,” Robinson responded. “I wanted him to have STD testing, and they wouldn’t do it in the hospital.”

Highland Ridge refuses to address policy

According to his bio, Highland Ridge Hospital CEO Jim Hess is “an expert” in risk management.

FOX 13 News asked him about the facility’s current policy on when to call 911 or police.

He declined to answer.

“We’re proud of the care and programs we provide these patients, many of whom are at the lowest points in their lives when they come to us,” Hess wrote in an email.

"We take all allegations related to our facility seriously, and all patient concerns and complaints are addressed promptly and appropriately without exception. It’s important to note that since the allegations were raised in 2019, Highland Ridge has evaluated and refined our protocols and processes throughout the entire patient experience from admission to discharge to ensure the highest quality of care for all patients. Since 2020, when I was appointed the new CEO of Highland Ridge, we have also taken additional actions to hone all aspects of patient care. This includes using advanced technologies to monitor and treat patients as well as enhanced processes and training for the entire staff. Regulatory agencies have recognized the actions we have taken, as shown by the recent decision to open admissions at our facility. Ensuring that our patients receive the care they need and deserve remains our top priority."

Criminal investigation

Rose joined other employees in speaking with the Utah Attorney General’s Office, which opened what was once called an “aggressive” criminal investigation.

She was not happy with the results.

Just one employee was charged and eventually granted “a little forgiveness,” meaning no jail time.

Instead, he paid a $690 fine.

Complaints

DHHS is encouraging anyone with a complaint about Highland Ridge Hospital to contact them by filling out this form.

Complainants have the option to remain anonymous.

Individuals may also file a criminal complaint by calling the Unified Police Department at (801) 840 4000 and/ or the Utah Attorney General’s Office at (801) 366 0260 or via this form.

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