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Utah Department of Health justifies not shutting down ‘Rape Hospital’

Posted at 9:32 PM, Sep 10, 2023

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

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

MIDVALE, Utah — Police reports show adult and minor patients at Highland Ridge Hospital in Midvale being assaulted or sexually assaulted every year since 2019. Employees say it keeps happening, no matter how many times the state comes out to investigate.

Highland Ridge is a for-profit psychiatric 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.

One employee was charged criminally in 2022. He ultimately paid a $690 fine for the case to be dismissed.
Several employees have told FOX 13 News and police that they have been told to refrain from reporting abuse or neglect to preserve the facility’s reputation. They now believe Highland Ridge Hospital is a “lost cause” that should be shut down.

The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) has been reluctant to shut down the facility despite continually citing Highland Ridge Hospital for "patient rights” issues.
The hospital has had its license revoked, replaced with a “conditional license,” at least three times since 2019.

Highland Ridge Hospital has never had to shut its doors.

“Why do you think it keeps happening?” asked FOX 13 News investigative reporter Adam Herbets.

“There’s no way I can tell you exactly why things like this continue to happen,” responded Joe Dougherty, a spokesperson for DHHS. “It’s unacceptable though.”

“If it’s unacceptable, then why not shut down the facility?” Herbets asked.

“These are things we will take a hard look at,” Dougherty said. “If someone suspects that a crime is being committed in their facility, whether it’s a patient, or whether it is a staff member, absolutely they have a duty to report it.”

Second chances, third chances, fourth chances

Each time a deficiency is cited by DHHS, Highland Ridge Hospital promises to improve by submitting a “plan of correction.”

In response, DHHS approves the plan and allows the facility to keep taking patients. Records show the same deficiencies repeatedly cited by the state.

“That’s something that we do take very very seriously – how do we keep people the safest possible?” Dougherty said. “If it requires shutting a place down, we are absolutely willing to do that.”

DHHS has never shut down a psychiatric facility in Utah.

Training

In the past, Highland Ridge Hospital has been able to get back into “good standing” by promising to retrain staff.

Employees like Emily Rose say that doesn’t actually happen. She worked as a behavioral health technician and left in 2020.

“The ‘retrainings’ just looked like the administration would come sign a bunch of papers to be up to code,” Rose said. “We had to sign it. They had to sign it. That was it. There was no reading. There was no teaching. They just signed some papers, and we went about our way.”

Dougherty said DHHS is in the process of creating its own training system and implementing stricter oversight.

Staffing and supervision

Still, no matter how good the training is, it doesn’t matter if there are not enough employees to train. Many of the problems identified at Highland Ridge Hospital come down to lack of staffing and supervision.

Highland Ridge Hospital CEO stated “he doesn’t have enough staff to keep everybody safe,” according to a Utah Attorney General’s Office report.

“The rules that we have state that staffing is dependent on the individual’s needs,” Dougherty said.

“If they can’t change their number of employees, what you’re saying is they need to change their number of patients?” asked FOX 13 News investigative reporter Adam Herbets.

“I think that would be the smart and prudent thing to do,” Dougherty said.

In an email to FOX 13 News, Hess wrote he’s implemented “advanced technologies” to monitor patients, but he declined to clarify what that means.

Meanwhile, DHHS said it is going to step up its game with more inspections and more enforcement as the government agency enters “a new era.”

Employees say they will believe it when they see it. They plan to file additional complaints as problems arise.

“We have such limited resources for psychiatric hospitals,” Dougherty said. “We only have a handful of them in the state, and so they provide a really essential resource... Simply shutting a facility down and moving residents out – it sounds easy – but it is an extremely challenging process.”

“Does the good outweigh the bad?” asked FOX 13 News investigative reporter Adam Herbets. “How many patients have to be hurt for something to actually change?”

“No patients should be hurt,” Dougherty responded. “Not every bad thing can be prevented. Not every death can be prevented, but we have a duty to make sure that we are doing everything that we can to prevent as many as we can.”

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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