100 assault cases since 2019: Utah psych hospital accused of silencing workers

Current and former employees have accused Midvale, Utah-based Highland Ridge Hospital of allowing assaults on patients and pressuring staff not to report them to police, Fox affiliate KSTU reported Sept. 7.

Highland Ridge is a for-profit psychiatric hospital owned by Franklin, Tenn.-based Acadia Healthcare. KSTU said it spoke with at least 12 patients and 24 current or former employees about the allegations. 

Police have responded to more than 100 assault cases at the hospital since 2019. Of those, 17 were documented sexual assaults and 31 were documented physical assaults. KSTU found that in the majority of sexual assault cases, police reports showed the victim or family called authorities, not hospital employees, despite state laws requiring mandatory reporting for workers at healthcare facilities. 

According to one police report, an employee told officers that hospital staff members "are threatened with being 'fired' if they report such incidents, due to it affecting the hospital reputation."

Other employees interviewed by KSTU said they were told not to call 911 or involve authorities.

State investigators have labeled the problem as "habitual," and the facility has had its license revoked three times since 2019. However, it was issued a "conditional license" each time and allowed to keep its doors open. Each time a deficiency is cited by the Utah Department of Health and Human Services, the hospital submits a plan of correction that must be approved by the state agency. Records show the same deficiencies have been repeatedly cited.

"That's something that we do take very very seriously: How do we keep people the safest possible?" Joe Dougherty, a spokesperson for DHHS, told KSTU. "If it requires shutting a place down, we are absolutely willing to do that."

However, the department has never shut down a psychiatric facility in Utah, according to the report.

"We have such limited resources for psychiatric hospitals," Mr. 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."

Mr. Dougherty said the agency is creating its own training system and plans to implement more inspections and stricter oversight. However, many of the problems cited at Highland Ridge Hospital are a result of lack of staffing and supervision. 

Highland Ridge CEO Jim Hess said in a Utah attorney general's office report that "he doesn't have enough staff to keep everybody safe." Since stepping into the role in 2020, Mr. Hess said he is focused on refining hospital protocols and processes to ensure safe and high-quality care. Efforts have included implementing new technologies to monitor patients and enhanced training for staff members. 

"We take all allegations related to our facility seriously, and all patient concerns and complaints are addressed promptly and appropriately without exception," he said in a statement to KSTU. "Regulatory agencies have recognized the actions we have taken, as shown by the recent decision to open admissions at our facility."

Becker's has reached out to Acadia Healthcare for comment and will update this story if more information becomes available.

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