Three bills that passed the Nevada Legislature this session could help state agencies keep a more watchful eye on psychiatric residential treatment facilities across the state, like the recently shuttered Never Give Up Youth Healing Center.
Two of the bills were sponsored by the Commission on Health and Human Services, which includes Assemblyman Gregory Hafen, R-Pahrump. Hafen said in an interview after the regular legislative session ended last week that he hoped the new laws would help prevent abuse at treatment centers similar to Never Give Up.
“I don’t know if it’s perfect yet, but it’s getting us in the right direction so we don’t have these problems in the future and can really address the kids and get them the services they need,” Hafen said. “I feel good about what we were able to accomplish.”
Never Give Up, located in Amargosa Valley, was closed and its license was revoked about two weeks after a Las Vegas Review-Journal investigation was published in April.
The newspaper found that children were inappropriately restrained more than 300 times last year, resulting in hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines to the facility. Lawsuits and criminal complaints outlined allegations of sexual assault and child abuse, and multiple former staff members have been charged with child abuse.
State data shows that Nevada has at least 14 other psychiatric residential treatment facilities.
Gov. Joe Lombardo signed AB136 into law on May 24, requiring those facilities with children to be regulated as child care institutions. Child care institutions must be licensed by the Division of Public and Behavioral Health, which in turn expands the licensing and oversight of psychiatric facilities.
Hafen said he closely watched another bill, AB148, as it unanimously passed the Assembly, but the legislation had not been sent to the governor’s office as of Friday. Hafen said the proposed law would grant courts oversight on psychiatric facilities that house children.
“Within 72 hours, once a child is put into a facility, they have to notify the court and then within 60 days, the court has to conduct a hearing to review the status of the child and determine the appropriateness of the placement,” Hafen said.
Assemblywoman Elaine Marzola, who sponsored the bill, could not be reached for comment. The bill also would allow parents access to the facilities, which previously was not required by state law.
The health commission sponsored another piece of legislation, AB435, which also was awaiting the governor’s signature. That would allow the Division of Public and Behavioral Health to review psychiatric facilities based on certain metrics and distribute millions of dollars in grant money annually.
“We’ll be able to monitor in the interim to make sure we didn’t miss something,” Hafen said. “If there’s unintended consequences we overlooked that need to be fixed, I’ll get to watch.”
Since September, officials with Never Give Up had reported updates to the Commission on Public and Behavioral Health, which oversees the use of seclusion and restraint, but representatives of the treatment facility declined to attend a meeting just days before its license was revoked.
On Thursday, commission chair Braden Schrag said the board wants to be more proactive by either visiting other facilities across the state or having representatives present regularly to the commission.
“I want to be proactive and potentially mitigate some of the issues, the issues with Never Give Up, with the various investigations at this time,” Schrag told commissioners. “They’re not doing some of the things they need to, but what can we do to help better align some of these institutions with what the expectations are?”
Schrag also asked the commission’s support staff if they could request that a legislative analyst attend the next meeting to explain some of the new laws aimed at psychiatric facilities.
At the end of Thursday’s meeting, a clinical social worker with the state’s child welfare agency said he was glad the commission was planning to visit the residential treatment facilities, but he wanted to know what commissioners were doing to stop another facility from operating the way Never Give Up did for years.
“What kind of new policy, or what’s going to be in place in the future moving forward, to ensure something like this does not happen again at Nevada institutions?” licensed social worker Matthew Bommarito asked in the virtual meeting. “I’m very concerned about what happened, and I just want to see what’s going to be put in place to prevent it from happening again.”
In response, Schrag said the commission would use Never Give Up as a case study to see what policies could be updated and what the commission missed.
“Just because they’re closed doesn’t mean we’re done,” Schrag said.