Whisper Ridge Dodges Another Bullet

Whisper Ridge Behavioral Health System was accused in February of human rights violations against their patients; in today’s Daily Progress Sarah Barry reports that they’ve avoided being shut down by paying $30k in fines and agreeing to change how they do things. The facility is in the business of treating minor teenagers for mental or drug problems, and its staffers are accused of sexually assaulting patients and human rights violations. They’re now required to maintain a 1:4 caregiver-to-patient ratio, which shouldn’t be too difficult with the 5-6 kids they’ve got in there now. Police are investigating the sexual assault allegations, with Capt. Chip Harding saying that “one investigator has been working on the case pretty much full-time since [February].”

Those of you playing along at home will remember that Whisper Ridge used to be named The Brown Schools of Virginia, when they racked up 107 state citations in just under two years, including human rights violations. Before that they were named The Millmont Center, and then they were caught with 50% of their staff consisting of utterly untrained temps and, again, sexual assault. Lest you think this is normal for such facilitations, the director of the state licensing agency described them as having “more violations than we have ever seen,” and that was back in 2002 before it got really bad.

I’m baffled as to why this place is permitted to remain open. I wonder what they’d have to do to get shut down. Beat a kid to death? Accidentally burn the place down and leave the kids in there to die? Kill, butcher and eat a puppy live on national television? With all of the competition in the local media market, somebody ought to go in there under cover, as a patient or an employee. That would be one hell of a story.

7 Responses to “Whisper Ridge Dodges Another Bullet”

  • Actually, one resident almost died from being beaten by other residents this year. He had begged not to be moved to a different unit, was ignored and then attacked as soon as he got there. The administrators told the nurses on duty not to report the incident and delayed medical treatment in an attempt at cover-uup.

    There has also been an arson incident at Whisper Ridge this year, in April I believe.

    The only reason they didn’t lose their license is that Commissioner Reinhard lacks the courage to stand up for people with psychiatric disabiloites and/or simply doesn’t care. His background is as a forensic psychiatrist and although he mouths the words of “recovery, empowerment and resilience” when in front of people with mental illness and their family members, in front of a forensic audience he talks about people with mental illness as if they were all either helpless and stupid or dangerous and in need of being locked up.
    We need a new Commissioner at DMHMRSAS, anyone who wants to write to Governor Kaine and say so would be much appreciated. It is a political appointment and Reinhard is a hold-over from Warner’s administration.

  • I know what would cause enough of an outcry that would cause them to shut down: they could shoot a neighbor’s cat.

  • It’s complicated. I know someone who worked in a residential facility in a different county, and the problem is, there’s often no place else for these kids to go. Everytime they close a program, it puts more stress on an overburdened system. Many of the kids in residential facilities today would have, in the past, gone to detention. But there’s no room in detention. The courts don’t want to deal with these kinds of assaults and disturbences — they would rather the facilities deal with it internally. (I know one case where the county police actually REFUSED to respond to calls from this particular program because they felt like they had been called too often when the kids were, in effect, rioting.) The administrators at such facilities want to hold on to their jobs, so they lie on the paperwork. They have untrained workers and un-equipped staff. Staffs are not empowered to deal with violents kids effectively — they run the risk of being arrested themselves if they physically restrain residents outside the state-approved (and highly ineffective) restrain program. Meanwhile, drugs and weapons and gang activities are flowing into the programs. There’s no one problem here, and no one solution.

  • Um, actually, there are always empty beds at the Commonwealth Center for Children and Adolescents on Western State’s grounds for the kids who actually need psychiatric care, it’s just cheaper to farm them out to for-profit companies like Psychiatric Solutions and forget about them.

    Some of the kids belonged in the juvenile justice system and were not supposed to be accepted by Whisper Ridge in the first place.

    What’s complicated exactly though about kids being raped, assaulted and neglected? Are you saying that it’s okay in that other county that the police don’t do their job? Why is that okay? Are you saying that because these are troubled kids it’s okay that they be neglected and abused as long as they are locked up away from the rest of us?

    I’m sorry, but if this was an animal shelter (thanks Pete), people in this community would be all over it. If it were even the adult jail there would be an outcry. It’s not complicated, it’s prejudice and apathy.

  • I don’t recall saying any of this was “ok.” It’s not ok to hurt children. It’s not ok for violent children to hurt others. It’s not ok for the police or the courts or the administrators or the social service system to abrogate their responsibilities.

    It’s very easy to be morally outraged when word of these abuses leak out, but it’s not easy to attack the problems at the source. You can close Whisper Ridge, but the kids in it will be sent to programs that are as bad or worse. This isn’t about just one facility, it’s a systemic problem.

    So yes, by all means, close the place. Sodomize and strangle a kitten on the campus grounds on live TV if you want. Burn the place to the ground if you have to.

    But that doesn’t solve the real problem. That can only come through tearing down the existing social service structure and rebuilding it from the ground up. Complicated.

  • Being familiar with the other residential programs for children and adolescents in this region, I have to say that the residents will not be sent somewhere as bad or worse, the other places in this region are much, much better run and safe. Of course none of the other programs are run by for profit companies.

    The young people in this program mostly don’t have involved parents to advocate for their placement in the best program unfortunately, that’s how they ended up in Whisper Ridge.

    You are correct that we need to completely revamp the social service system, but in the mean time we can’t send a message to licensed programs that as long as nobody dies they can get away with every other violation in the book.

    By not revoking Whisper Ridge’s license, Commissioner Reinhard has completely undermined the power and authority of the licensing department. No facility is going to take them seriously now or worry about getting into trouble with them with almost no consequences for the most egregious facility.

    The “plan” for staffing is the plan Whisper Ridge agreed to a few years ago in writing and didn’t adhere to. It’s a joke.

  • Mental institutions are prisons. What do you expect to happen in a prison?

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