The state of Idaho will pay $1.2 million and allow a disability rights group to monitor how patients are treated at a state center for the developmentally disabled. The settlement ends a four-year lawsuit between the state and six families of vulnerable Idahoans who were abused, mistreated or died at the Southwest Idaho Treatment Center in Nampa.

The center is currently licensed to serve 18 residents. There were 14 residents Monday, according to the Idaho Department of Health and Human Services, which operates the facility.

Lawyers for the families said the residents of the treatment center were subjected to “pervasive abuse and neglect”. The state agreed that it would comply with federal and state laws and agreed to give Disability Rights Idaho open access to the center and its records.

“This settlement demonstrates zero tolerance for the abuse of individuals with developmental disabilities…” Char Quade, managing partner of the Boise firm CK Quade Law, said in a press release.

This requires a “vital (dialogue) with the disability community to ensure the proper operation and management of the public treatment center so that vulnerable citizens are not further abused,” she said.

No family should ever have to worry that their loved one will be neglected, abused, or die when seeking services in Idaho.

– Char Quade, managing partner of CK Quade Law

Shamus O’Meara, whose Minneapolis law firm O’Meara Wagner also represented the families, said the settlement ended “a long legal journey for families who have suffered such incredible violence, injury and death of their loved ones.”

Among the families suing were those of Drew Rinehart, who died at the facility in 2017; and Brandon Buchanan, a child whose mother said SWITC staff put him in “situations where he was injured, resulting in severe head injuries and scarring.”

The lawsuit ends years of litigation over claims of abuse by SWITC

The lawsuit was one of several major turning points for the Southwest Idaho treatment center in the late 2010s.

The Idaho Department of Health and Human Services began investigating allegations of abuse at SWITC in mid-2017.

At that time, 25 residents lived in the building. An internal investigation confirmed that six employees—at the time, about 5% of the facility’s total workforce—had abused residents. All six employees have resigned or been fired.

A department spokesman told Idaho that the abuse was mostly psychological — teasing and insulting residents — but also included physical abuse, such as employees slapping or using force on residents.

Shortly after the Department of Health and Human Services began an investigation, 27-year-old resident Drew Rinehart died suddenly while being treated at the facility. Police deemed it a “suspicious death” and later revealed that Rinehart had been left unattended for hours.

Disability Rights Idaho — the group that now has a court-issued pass to monitor care at SWITC — issued a report in 2018 that concluded the facility “consistently fails to provide the treatment, services and protections it is legally required to provide to the people in her care” and failed to protect residents from abuse, neglect and injury.

The Idaho Department of Health and Human Services disputed some of the report’s findings. It also argued that some of the report’s troubling findings were out of context.

Health and Human Services told the Idaho Statesman that in 2017, staff were subjected to “an average of more than 70 assaults” per month by facility residents. “Client-to-client attacks averaged just over 26 attacks per month,” the Statesman department reported. “That means we have regular medical leave and a high turnover of direct care staff.”

The state’s nonpartisan watchdog also raised the alarm about operations at SWITC. A January 2019 report by the Idaho Office of Performance Evaluation said the treatment center is in a cycle of “organizational trauma” caused in part by “haphazard” layoffs and other issues.

“The SWITC has shrunk dramatically over the past few decades. Downsizing is necessarily difficult, but the struggle is compounded by departmental neglect and the loss of institutional expertise,” the report said.


Health and Social Security on settlement: ‘Does not include admission of liability’

The Idaho Department of Health and Human Services is responsible for inspecting health care facilities throughout the state to ensure they are in compliance with federal and state laws and regulations.

Unlike most other facilities, the Southwest Idaho Treatment Center is also managed and staffed by the department — and only a few outside organizations or agencies have the authority to oversee that SWITC is operating properly.

Greg Stahl, spokesman for the Idaho Department of Health and Human Services, told the Idaho Capital Sun on Monday that operational changes at the Southwest Idaho Treatment Center in recent years have improved treatment for residents. Stahl did not say what had changed, but noted that the center had passed recent inspections.

There are about half as many residents in the institution as there were five years ago. However, as recently as 2021, it was struggling with understaffing and compliance issues.

“SWITC has made significant improvements over the past several years, as recognized by two consecutive non-citation facility surveys in 2022 and 2023,” the emailed statement said. “These improvements allowed SWITC to agree to a settlement that does not involve an admission of liability and the terms do not include court supervision.”


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