FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (KNWA) – One year ago, LaDawn Martin’s 10-year-old son lived at Piney Ridge Treatment Center.
“It felt like a prison,” Martin said.
The facility is designed to help children – ages 7 to 17 – suffering from sexual behavior disorders and mental illness.
“I can’t say that they did anything for him other than take him away from his family,” Martin said.
Martin says her son’s caseworker and an employee at the center made her feel like Piney Ridge was her son’s only option.
“It’s kind of how they made it look like – like if I took him out early then I would be showing them that I didn’t want what was best for him,” Martin said. “It was like a scare tactic.”
Martin recalls the facility being filthy and says her son was frequently attacked by other children. “He was scared to death to be there,” Martin said.
After receiving complaints about abuse, neglect, and inappropriate sexual conduct – DHS contracted the Arkansas Foundation of Medical Care to investigate the claims.
Less than a month ago staff with AFMC visited the Piney Ridge facility – interviewing employees and clients – most of which claimed the center is understaffed and lacks the resources it needs to help the children.
According to AFMC’s report, the facility was in extreme disrepair and very dirty. Twenty kids were interviewed. One said, “Staff broke my glasses during a takedown … it’s not safe at all.”
The review also found less than half of the employees had either no training in their file or it was expired.
We spoke with a former employee who wished to remain anonymous.
“I saw a boy probably 7 or 8 being carried all the way down from one building to the other building by his hands and feet – four staff with each arm and each leg.”
She says she witnessed similar claims in the report – including kids being thrown into a lockdown room sometimes for hours at a time.
“They couldn’t really see out of it because it wasn’t glass, it was that plexiglass.”
“I told my supervisor, I said that I didn’t agree with it and it was just like oh, that’s our policy, that’s what we have to go by.”
DHS could revoke the facility’s license – something neither Martin nor the former employee want to see happen.
“There’s definitely not a lot of mental health help especially for kids,” Martin said. “So, I feel like it’s needed but they definitely do need an overhaul. I feel like there are too many kids in a small area, I don’t feel like the staff is properly trained.”
We reached out to administrators at the center, they sent us this message: “Piney Ridge is accredited by The Joint Commission and fully licensed by the Arkansas Department of Human Services’ Division of Child Care and Early Childhood Education. Piney Ridge works collaboratively with all applicable regulatory and accreditation partners to identify areas for clinical and operational improvement and, where necessary, modifies policies and procedures and provides additional employee training to improve patient care. Unfortunately, despite clinically appropriate policies and procedures and careful monitoring of our residents, isolated incidents do occur. These incidents are reported to state agencies and guardians, fully investigated and addressed clinically through programming. Ensuring that we maintain a safe, therapeutic environment for our residents is Piney Ridge’s top priority. Due to federal and state patient privacy regulations and our confidentiality policies, we cannot comment on any specific patient incident.”