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Intermountain's Wake

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The recent announcement that Intermountain Hospital is temporarily closing its Residential Treatment Center has left patients, parents and government officials scratching their heads. Left up in the air are questions concerning the future placement of at-risk adolescents, financial responsibility for new placement costs and the possibility of lawsuits for assault and medical malpractice.

Intermountain, located at 303 N. Allaumbaugh, is Boise's only private psychiatric facility. Over several years it has been the subject of numerous complaints for understaffing, violation of patient civil rights, patient assaults on staff and fellow patients, medication errors, inappropriate discharges for financial reasons and, in one case recently settled out of court, the wrongful death of a teenage patient (BW News, "A Gathering Storm, 08/02/2006). The most recent incidents involved what adolescent patients and their parents referred to as a "riot" wild enough to require intervention by Boise police.

Officials at the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare's Bureau of Facility Standards declined to elaborate on their ongoing investigation. Spokesman Ross Mason did confirm that Intermountain's violations are potentially serious enough to put its licensure into question.

The residential center's closure leaves at least a dozen adolescents without ongoing treatment.

Heather Evers' daughter Cassie, 14, was a patient at the center the night of Thursday, December 7, seeking treatment for emotional distress following childhood sexual abuse. According to Evers, Cassie made her way through an unlocked window leading into a nurses' station, and ingested "a whole bunch of different medications" lying on an unsecured cart.

"That's huge, for a patient to get to an open med cart like that," Evers said.

After being treated for an overdose at St. Alphonsus, Cassie was readmitted to Intermountain, where doctors ordered constant surveillance but placed the young woman in an isolated room, leaving her in paper hospital scrubs instead of her own clothing. Evers said a staff member called her anonymously to complain about a "cover-up" and alleged that one staffer even quit as a result. Cassie's own version of the story corroborates with the one told to Evers, which contradicts official assurances that she never entered the restricted medication area.

Evers told BW that the day she filed official complaints with the state licensing bureau, Intermountain announced its decision to close the residential center, pending an expansion program that will nearly double current bed space.

Evers also said that Intermountain CEO Rick Bangert verbally assured her that the hospital would provide each parent with sufficient funds for patient and escort travel to alternative facilities. To date, however, she has not received any firm documentation of this offer.

Representatives from Intermountain Hospital and its parent company, PsychSolutions Inc., did not respond to requests for interviews.

"They are responsible, they are the ones shutting down, and who should be responsible for that?" said Evers. "That's not compensation for the mistreatment of our daughter while she was there, or for the break in the continuity of care and how this is going to set back these kids."

Phil Sheridan, LCSW and manager of psychiatric emergency services for nearby St. Alphonsus, said his hospital is not equipped to handle any remaining teenagers on an in-patient basis.

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