Thursday, October 18, 2007

BRENDAN BLUM: Four recent Utah deaths in treatment programs

Facility put on probation, but free to take new clients

By Kirsten Stewart
The Salt Lake Tribune
October 13, 2007

A residential youth treatment center was cited on Friday for providing inadequate medical care to Brendan James Blum, a 14-year-old California boy who died at its Draper facility.

Utah licensers placed Youth Care of Utah on probation, requiring the center to, among other requirements, retool employee training. Youth Care was not fined and it is free to accept new clients, though no more than five every 30 days.

The disciplinary action was reached as part of a settlement between the facility and lawyers for the state Human Services Office of Licensing, which regulates Utah's teen-help industry.

Licensing director Ken Stettler said he hopes Friday's action shows the state takes its watchdog role seriously. It comes a day after criminal neglect charges were filed against two former Youth Care counselors in connection with Brendan's June 28 death.

It also coincides with a congressional probe into wilderness camps, which detailed thousands of cases of abuse nationwide since 1990. Of 10 deaths detailed in the federal report, five occurred in Utah.

The cases showed a pattern of lax government oversight and medical neglect, with counselors assuming the teens were making up their symptoms.

Brendan Blum's mother, Dana Blum, fears the same issues may have played a role in her son's death.

Blum said she "feels" for the employees at Youth Care, but said the facility should have been shut down, at least temporarily, and the owners held accountable.

"Nothing will bring Brendan back," said Blum. "But the bottom line is that when a parent makes a difficult decision to place their child in a treatment program, the management and caretakers have a responsibility to ensure their safety. There shouldn't be any tolerance for the death of a child."

Sent to bed

Blum said the coroner described her son's death as "violent and painful." An autopsy concluded that he died after his bowel twisted, cutting off the blood supply to his small intestine.

Brendan had vomited and been suffering diarrhea all night, according to police. Instead of phoning the on-call nurse, per Youth Care's policy, counselors treated the boy with an over-the-counter medicine and sent him to bed, said Draper police Sgt. Gerry Allred.

The next morning, Brendan, who had Asperger's syndrome, a form of autism, was found dead on his mattress.

The on-call nurse, who was later interviewed by police, said had she been consulted, she would have advised sending Brendan to the hospital, said Allred. The Utah State Medical Examiner said with medical intervention, the boy might have survived.

'Flu-like' symptoms

Youth Care officials maintain Brendan complained only of "flu-like" symptoms.

"We extend our deepest sympathies to the family, and we continue to work closely with Utah officials and law enforcement. But we are confident a criminal prosecution will be found unwarranted," said Kristen Hayes, spokeswoman for Aspen Education Group, which owns Youth Care.

Based in Cerritos, Calif., Aspen is a division of the CRC Health Group, which runs boarding schools, outdoor education programs and weight-loss camps.

For two decades, Youth Care has "delivered the highest standards of care," treating more than 1,300 children with behavioral and addiction problems last year, said Hayes. "All of Aspen's programs either meet or exceed state and national standards."

Aspen's record

Stettler confirmed Aspen's reputation, saying, "They've had a pretty spotless record."

Three of four recent deaths at Utah treatment programs, however, happened at Aspen facilities: Blum's and two suicides; one in July 2004 at Island View Academy in Syracuse, and another in April at Aspen Achievement Academy of Loa.

Stettler said the April suicide remains under investigation by law enforcement, but his own probe found Aspen wasn't at fault. The suicide at Island View happened before Aspen purchased the facility.

Blum said she thoroughly researched Youth Care and Aspen and was never told of the fatalities.

If nothing else, I would like to see them create a searchable database so parents can review deaths and complaints and not have to rely on the subjective descriptions of licensors," said Blum.

The Web site of state licensors has contact information for facilities and shows whether their license is in good standing. But for more detailed information, parents need to phone regulators, who keep only paper files.

Sense of justice

Blum has "taken heat" for enrolling Brendan at Youth Care, but she says research shows behavioral modification programs can work for children with Asperger's.

"The real problem is there are not adequate community resources for kids with mental health problems," said Blum.

Brendan was "erratic and unpredictable," and started acting aggressively at age 3, said Blum. "There were no consequences that were meaningful to him. You could take away privileges with friends, TV, or PlayStation. It didn't matter."

Trips to her county mental health facility, school counselors and private therapists yielded no firm diagnosis.

It wasn't until Brendan turned 13 and got swept up in the juvenile justice system that doctors at a local university diagnosed him with Asperger's.

"They said he was a textbook case of high-functioning autism and should have been diagnosed at age 8," said Blum.

Brendan had a "fine-tuned sense of justice. As his mother, I feel I need to make sure Youth Care is held accountable," said Blum.

"These kids come from families that care about them. They're not just throwaway kids."

Care Center on Probation After Boy's Death

October 13th, 2007

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- State regulators have put a Draper youth facility on probation and cited operators for providing inadequate medical care to a 14-year-old California boy who died there in June.

Disciplinary action against Youth Care of Utah was part of a settlement reached between the facility and lawyers for the state Human Services Office of Licensing.

Youth Care was not fined and is free to accept new clients.

Brendan James Blum was found dead at the center on June 28.

An autopsy concluded he died after his bowel twisted and cut off the blood supply to his small intestine.

A police investigation found the boy had been vomiting and suffering from diarrhea, but that staff failed to contact an on-call nurse.

On Thursday, prosecutors charged two counselors from the residential facility with one count each of third-degree felony abuse or neglect of a child.

Youth Care officials say Blum complained only of flu-like symptoms.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

Caretakers charged with child abuse

Two are accused of not providing medical aid to boy, 14, who died
October 12, 2007
By Jason Bergreen

Two caretakers at a Draper assisted-living facility were charged Thursday with failing to provide medical aid to a 14-year-old resident who died under their supervision in June.

Jorge Ramirez and Deborah Cole were both on duty at Youth Care Inc. on June 27 when Brendan Blum of Santa Barbara, Calif., died. An autopsy concluded that Blum died from an inadequate blood supply to his small bowel, according to a criminal complaint filed in 3rd District Court.

On the night of his death, Blum had a loss of bowel control, vomited and complained of stomach pain, but Ramirez and Cole did not provide or seek adequate medical help for him, the complaint states.

Blum was found dead on the morning of June 28. A state medical examiner concluded that Blum's death could have been prevented if he had been given medical attention.
"Secure treatment facilities are responsible for providing appropriate medical treatment and care for the children entrusted to their supervision," Salt Lake County District Attorney Lohra Miller said in a news release. "In this case, it is alleged that a young boy's need for emergency medical treatment was ignored and that this negligence resulted in the boy's death."

Miller also said that state law requires that treatment facilities and their employees be held to a "heightened standard of care."

Blum was at the facility because he had Asperger's Syndrome, a disorder related to autism. Cole and Ramirez are each charged with one third-degree felony count of abuse or neglect of a child. The crime is punishable by up to five years in jail.

Youth Center Workers Charged in Child's Death

October 11th, 2007
By Sarah Dallof

Two workers at a Draper center for troubled youth have been charged in the death of a 14-year-old boy.

According to court documents obtained by KSL News, the death of 14-year-old Brendan Blum could have been prevented if two workers at the facility had called for medical attention.

Brendan was originally from Santa Barbara, Calif., and had Asperger's syndrome, a form of autism.

The Salt Lake District Attorney says that on June 27 he became violently ill, vomiting, losing control of his bowels and complaining of stomach pain. But the district attorney says despite the symptoms, workers Deborah Cole and Jorge Ramirez failed to notify the on-call nurse or contact a doctor.

Brendan was found dead around 7 a.m. An autopsy revealed he died of a small bowel infarction, a condition the medical examiner feels would not have been fatal if Brendan had received medical attention.

Cole and Ramirez are charged with felony abuse or neglect of a disabled child.
KSL News spoke today with the executive director of Youth Care. He commented on the charges, as did Draper police. "We are confident that a criminal prosecution ultimately will be found to be unjustified and unwarranted. In the meantime, we will continue to cooperate fully with the authorities and also to support our dedicated staff," director Trina Packard said.

Draper Police Sgt. Gerry Allred disagrees. "We're confident that these are the right charges and that, you know, hopefully this will bring something to the industry so that we don't keep having these things happen," he said.

Officials with the Utah Human Services Department say they moved to pull Youth Care's license right after the death, but the boy's mother says it took two months for any action.

The facility appealed the move, and while that's being decided, the center is still open and operating.

Cole and Ramirez have been summoned to appear in court on Nov. 20. If convicted, they each face up to five years in prison.

Center for Troubled Youth Could Have Its License Suspended

August 31st, 2007

(KSL News) A Draper center for troubled youth could have its license suspended because staff did not follow policy the night a boy died there.

A Youth Care counselor found the 14-year-old California boy dead on the morning of June 28. Authorities say he'd been sick with stomach flu-like symptoms.

A spokesperson for the state's human services department said today Youth Care staff did not contact an on-call nurse the night the teen died.

Youth Care says they will appeal the notice of suspension and work closely with state officials. They also say they are conducting their own review of procedures.
They called the death an unfortunate accident and an unexpected loss.

Youth's death is still under review

July 18, 2007

DRAPER -- The Salt Lake district attorney will be asked to decide what, if any, charges should be filed in connection with the death of a 14-year-old boy at a youth treatment facility in Draper.

The Southern California boy, whose name was not released, was found dead at the Youth Care of Utah on June 28. He had been suffering from stomach and bowel problems and placed in a room separate from the others. In the morning, he was found dead on his mattress.

Draper Police Sgt. Gerry Allred said Monday an autopsy had been completed, but he did not want to comment on it until all factors were looked at.
"We're looking at it really hard to make sure we're not missing anything," he said.

BRENDAN BLUM: Teen boy found dead at treatment center

By Rebecca Palmer
June 29, 2007

DRAPER — Workers at the residential youth treatment center Youth Care of Utah found a 14-year-old California boy dead inside their facility Thursday morning.

The boy had been suffering with bowel and stomach problems, so had been separated from other youths at the home, according to Draper Police Sgt. Gerry Allred. The sick teen had been placed in a room and was allowed to sleep on his own mattress.

When workers with the private company checked on the boy early Thursday, they found he had died.

Police were called and responded to the Horizon House facility near 12600 Minuteman Drive at 7:07 a.m.

An autopsy was performed Thursday afternoon, Allred said, and authorities were working to complete an investigation into the death.

They will not rule out the possibility of filing criminal charges until their investigation is complete, Allred said.

Youth Care of Utah declined to be interviewed by the Deseret Morning News on Thursday but promised to release information as it becomes available. The company's Web site says the company accepts students between 11 and 18 years old and treats them for behavioral, mental and substance abuse problems.

The company employs two registered nurses and a psychiatrist in addition to several therapists and counselors and is licensed by the state to house up to 43 students at a time.

On July 30, 2004, a 16-year-old boy was found hanged in a youth treatment home in Syracuse. The 110-bed facility where he had been staying was ordered by the state to take "corrective action" in the case, which was determined to be suicide.

A second treatment home was disciplined by the state in 2004 for operating outside of state regulations. The residential support center is currently licensed in Mount Pleasant, Sanpete County.