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Nurse at youth psychiatric facility arrested on child abuse charge

Updated April 26, 2023 - 7:33 pm

A nurse at the Never Give Up Youth Healing Center in Amargosa Valley was arrested Friday on suspicion of child abuse involving 19 victims, according to a Nye County Sheriff’s Office report.

Sheriff Joe McGill said Tuesday evening that deputies were continuing to investigate the facility, but he declined to say if additional arrests were expected.

“We have to investigate certain allegations, and we can’t take it lightly,” he said. “So in this case, the detective felt that there was enough to make an arrest, and we’re going to support that decision.”

Sheriff’s deputies arrested 44-year-old Christina Mendoza, identified in the arrest report as a licensed practical nurse, in connection with an investigation into child abuse at the residential treatment facility. According to the arrest report, the investigation began in August 2021.

The facility, which houses patients who suffer from a range of behavioral and psychiatric conditions, was the subject of a recent Las Vegas Review-Journal investigation into allegations of child abuse that have led to hefty fines from the state health department.

Four other adults associated with Never Give Up are facing criminal charges in separate cases ranging from allegations of child abuse to sexual assault of a minor, the Nye County Sheriff’s Office has said.

Mendoza was arrested on suspicion of abuse or neglect of a child in a mental health facility, child abuse resulting in substantial bodily or mental harm, conspiracy to commit abuse of a vulnerable person, abuse of a vulnerable person, criminal neglect of a patient resulting in substantial bodily harm and failing to report abuse of a vulnerable person.

Her duties at the facility included “everyday medical care,” administering medication, ordering medical testing or referrals to outside doctors, and evaluating children after physical restraints by staff, “to include the 19 victims listed in this case,” the arrest report said.

She is scheduled to appear in Beatty Justice Court on June 26. She has not been formally charged.

A public relations firm representing Never Give Up did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.

‘Chemical restraints’

Mendoza is accused of failing to report alleged abuse that patients experienced at the hands of other staff members despite being a “mandatory reporter.” According to the arrest report, Mendoza uploaded photos of children’s injuries into Never Give Up’s workplace app that showed patients with bruises from restraints or carpet burns from being secluded in the facility’s “observation unit.”

Never Give Up is facing more than $350,000 in fines from the state health department over allegations that staff unnecessarily, and sometimes violently, restrained children and failed to address other ongoing problems, the Review-Journal reported this month.

According to Mendoza’s arrest report, she administered sedatives, referred to as “chemical restraints,” to children but failed to notify parents. She is accused of giving shots to two girls nearly 90 minutes after they had caused a disruption.

Chemical restraints can only be used if an emergency exists, but the emergency had “long expired” when Mendoza gave the girls the shots, the report said.

In one instance outlined in the report, Mendoza is accused of failing to give supplemental medical shakes to a child who said he needed a specific diet because of severe constipation. The child’s mother pulled him from the facility, and he was hospitalized in Las Vegas, where doctors found that he had lost 41 pounds while at the facility.

“The doctor stated the child was severely constipated and the child’s organs were within 24 to 48 hours of shutting down,” the report said.

Deputies also allege that Mendoza ignored a girl’s complaints of a toe injury from a restraint, until the Department of Child and Family Services forced the facility to seek outside medical help. The girl’s toe had been fractured for a month, the report said.

Mendoza also is accused of instructing employees to “not interact” with children who were self-harming.

Concerns about oversight

One patient told Mendoza that a male staff member had put his hands around her neck and thrown her down the hallway when he thought the child was trying to leave the facility. Another patient treated by Mendoza said she was in a “fist fight” with a staff member that left her with extensive injuries on her face and neck, the report said. Mendoza failed to report either confrontation, according to the arrest report.

Two weeks ago, the facility refused to give updates to the Commission on Behavioral Health, which is tasked with reviewing data on the use of seclusion and restraints at facilities across Nevada.

In June, the Nevada Disability Advocacy and Law Center submitted a complaint to the state health department detailing its own investigation into the facility.

The group alleged that its representatives had witnessed children with cuts and bruises from restraints. Property damage was prevalent throughout the building, including broken ceiling tiles and hanging cables that one patient allegedly used to attempt to hang himself, according to the complaint.

Carissa Tashiro, an attorney with the Nevada Disability Advocacy and Law Center, declined to comment on the specifics of Mendoza’s arrest on Tuesday, but said the organization hopes that children who were harmed at Never Give Up will “get the justice they deserve.”

“As more about what happened at this facility comes to light, we also expect improvements in state oversight so this doesn’t happen again,” she said.

Never Give Up is located on the same property as Northwest Academy, a private boarding school that was shut down more than four years ago. The owners of Northwest Academy were arrested in February 2019 and initially faced more than 90 counts of child abuse or neglect. The couple took a plea deal in 2021 that significantly reduced their charges.

Contact Katelyn Newberg at knewberg@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0240. Follow @k_newberg on Twitter. Contact Sabrina Schnur at sschnur@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0278. Follow @sabrina_schnur on Twitter.

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