FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — Holes in walls, standing water and feces on the walls are just a few reasons a Fayetteville Treatment Center for kids was reprimanded by the state.
Most of Christy’s childhood was spent behind locked doors.
“I’ve been in treatment facilities pretty much my whole life. I’ve been in therapy and all that stuff since I was 6,” she said. KNWA changed Christy’s name to protect her identity.
Last year, she landed at Piney Ridge Treatment Center, a facility for children with sexual behavior problems and other mental illnesses.
“I probably would never send anybody there ever. Honestly, I don’t know and understand how that place is still open,” she said.
An Arkansas Department of Human Services Letter of Reprimand reveals why Christy feels that way.
“Staff wouldn’t do anything about what the kids would do in there. Kids would definitely pee all over the ground and leave feces rubbed on the walls,” she described.
State inspections back up her claims.
The Department of Human Services reprimanded Piney Ridge Treatment Center earlier this year for falling out of compliance with state licensing standards; a repeated problem in 2020. State inspectors found issues at the facility on at least 15 occasions last year.
2020 Compliance Issues cited in Letter of Reprimand
These include a list of problems from feces on walls and ceilings, the smell of urine and medication being logged but never actually given out. Some of the problems were brought to the state Child Welfare Agency Review Board (CWARB) earlier this year.
“There were a number of complaints received related to Piney Ridge Treatment Center,” Program Manager with the Division of Child Care and Early Childhood Education Ebony Russ explained to the board this June.
The CWARB issued a Letter of Reprimand in March this year, noting a history of, “excessive citations and a lack of sustained compliance.” There are no immediate repercussions for this reprimand, but it states, “if the agency does not substantially comply with Minimum Licensing Standards, a Probationary License may be issued.” The CWARB has received regular updates on Piney Ridge’s progress since then.
Christy was there for it all last year.
“It was kinda more emotionally abusing to a lot of the kids there than it was fixing,” she said.
She said trying to get treatment while living in those conditions was an uphill battle for her.
“It’s kind of like a mental hammer to the head that we are bad people and that’s all that we will ever be,” she said.
A number of licensing issues came at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. Despite that, the letter of reprimand mentions multiple instances where the children did not have any soap, clean towels or tissues.
Piney Ridge also used a separate building, called the annex, to quarantine sick kids. An unannounced state inspection found that building “not psychiatric safe.” It had loose hanging wires, chemicals stored in the furnace room and no fire inspection.
Inspection of Quarantine Location
Since that letter of reprimand in March, the problems have continued.
“There were four reported elopements that have occurred, ” Russ told the CWARB in June.
There have been four runaways since April and three patients injured.
State law requires Piney Ridge to have one staff for every six residents during the day and one staff for every eight residents at night. One of the compliance checks KNWA uncovered from April shows the facility was “short staffed” and “out of ratio.”
It was one of two times that month the facility was short-staffed. Then again in May, inspectors say a “lack of supervision” might have allowed a minor to “escape the grounds.”
Piney Ridge brought on a new CEO, Justin Hoover, after the letter of reprimand from the state. He testified to the CWARB in June.
“We’re doing everything we can right now to attract staff as well as very competitive pay and sign-on bonuses when necessary,” Hoover said.
He declined an on-camera interview but answered some written questions for KNWA. When asked about improvements to the facility, he said “some improvements consist of remodeling our gym, added 3 activity rooms, added equipment to our outdoor area, and new paint and decor in many areas.”
But state officials worry this could be a pattern. Ashelyn Abney with the Division of Child Care told the board in March, “we have seen there, before, changes have been put into place, but they’re not sustained. And then we will find that we go back to, you know, multiple things being out of compliance.”
Christy hopes it can change.
“I honestly think it was a waste of a year of my life,” she said.
But she wants others to have success getting the treatment they need.