Some of the most disturbing stories coming out of UHS’s behavioral health facilities involve the youths entrusted to their care. From Florida to California and many states in between, there are reports of young patients and residents suffering serious physical, emotional and sexual abuse.

Dark Days in the Sunshine State

In September 2014, NBC News ran an investigative story about alleged mistreatment of young residents at UHS’s National Deaf Academy (NDA) in Mt. Dora, Fla.[1] Former students and their parents told shocking stories of abuse and neglect. One family described their son as “broken” by NDA after they placed him there in 2012. But NDA is just one of a number of UHS’s troubled youth facilities in Florida. In Bradenton, the Manatee Palms Group Homes was cited in 2012 by the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration for failing to protect the rights of children by not having sufficient and appropriate staff to supervise patients, resulting in patient exposure ”to potential abuse and harm.”[2] Three adolescent patients ran away from the facility, even though two of them were ordered to be under close observation and had histories of running away. One patient reported that while she was away from the facility she received money for having sexual relations with two adult males. Three other UHS facilities in Florida have closed in the wake of similar abuse scandals. At the Milton Girls Juvenile Residential Facility in Milton, a staff member was convicted of sexual misconduct with six girls in the facility and is now serving a 25-year sentence.[3] Before the Bristol Youth Academy in Bristol was closed, a state survey found that more than 10 percent of its residents reported sexual victimization by staff.[4] The state’s Department of Juvenile Justice terminated its contract with UHS’s Gulf Coast Youth Academy in Fort Walton Beach after saying many “critical issues” went uncorrected.

“Harsh Treatment”

Perhaps the most damning body of evidence against UHS’s youth facilities can be found in “Harsh Treatment,” an investigative reporting project of the Chicago Tribune and Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism.[5] The series, which launched in December 2014, focuses on the failings of youth treatment centers run by various providers, but a troubling number of them are UHS facilities. The Tribune’s stories looked at breakdowns in care at Illinois’ residential treatment centers — a scandal that UHS facilities are at the heart of. UHS’s Rock River Academy for girls in Rockford, Ill., is described as “violent, chaotic and under-resourced.”[6] The Tribune’s findings about Rock River and other facilities are so extensive and explosive that UHS Behind Closed Doors summarizes them on this website in a separate story. (Read our summary here.) The Medill report looked at troubled youth facilities across the country. It began with a lengthy expose of UHS’s Provo Canyon School, which includes three campuses in Utah’s Provo area. The Medill report notes that collectively Provo Canyon’s three campuses constitute the largest UHS behavioral facility in the country, able to house up to 274 youths at a time. While the school’s website features photos of the idyllic surroundings, with snow-capped peaks hovering in the distance, the conditions inside seem to be anything but idyllic. Since 2011, police have responded to calls from Provo Canyon more than once a week on average. According to the story, “The calls include at least 56 reports of assault and 25 reports of sex offenses.”[7] The Medill report includes appalling stories of youths being preyed upon sexually by staff and other residents. It also includes the case of a resident who was easily able to escape the facility, stole a car while he was off campus and then crashed it into another vehicle, critically injuring the driver and killing his wife, who was in the passenger seat. Between 2011 and 2013, Utah officials found multiple violations by the school in its care of the troubled youth. Twice the school’s license was put on provisional status by the state due to violations.[8] The administration at Provo Canyon refused to speak with the Medill reporters, but UHS did issue a statement. The company said privacy concerns prevented it from addressing specific allegations, but the statement said, “You are receiving information from patients who have had often horrific life experiences and have mental health issues. Their characterization of issues and facts do not accurately reflect what really happened.”[9]

Closed for Business

At its main website, UHS prominently states that it operates 216 behavioral health facilities in 37 states, Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and the United Kingdom. What UHS does not tout on its website is that the company has closed at least 22 of its behavioral facilities since 2011. (Click here for the list of closed facilities.) Strikingly, 21 of the 22 behavioral facilities UHS has closed since 2011 were facilities that served youths. And eight of those shuttered facilities were non-public schools in California that UHS shut down in the wake of a lawsuit alleging that it “warehouse[d]” students instead of providing proper instruction.[10] That lawsuit was filed in 2009 by the parents of a former student, along with former teachers and administrators, who charged that multiple schools in California operated by UHS would assign any available salaried or hourly employee to act as educators and then invoice the respective school districts as though the contracted educational services had been properly performed.[11] The state of California intervened in the lawsuit and charged UHS with creating false records and submitting false claims to the California State Department of Education for reimbursement. In March 2012, UHS closed the schools, and in September of that year settled the lawsuit. UHS did not admit liability, but it agreed to pay $4.25 million to settle the case.[12] This troubling tendency to close youth facilities rather than fix them leaves one wondering about the depth of UHS’s commitment to America’s kids.