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Nevada faces federal investigation over treatment of kids with behavioral issues

Updated February 11, 2021 - 9:22 am

The Department of Justice is investigating whether Nevada unnecessarily relies on institutions — both in and out of state — to treat children with behavioral health conditions, the Las Vegas Review-Journal has learned.

It is the second time this year that the state has faced a federal investigation related to its treatment of juveniles.

The latest investigation stems from a complaint, filed with the DOJ by the Nevada Disability Advocacy and Law Center, detailing the state’s lack of available, community-based mental health treatment for children and adolescents.

“This requires the parents or general court system to send them to out-of-state facilities, and they come back into the home with very little support or services available,” said William Heaivilin, an attorney with the nonprofit.

Karla Delgado, social services chief for the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services, acknowledged the investigation in an email and said the state would be “cooperating with any and all requests for information.”

She also noted that the number of out-of-state placements has been reduced in the last five years.

According to state data, 133 children and adolescents were placed into out-of-state facilities in 2020 — a 53 percent decrease since 2016. More than 75 percent of those patients went to a facility in Utah.

Since 2016, the state has leveraged resources, secured federal funding and used community partnerships to expand available services for youth in Nevada, according to Delgado.

That includes a mobile crisis response team, which can de-escalate situations so youth don’t have to be admitted to the hospital.

“Before the availability of mobile crisis services, many Nevada youth experiencing a mental health crisis would present to the emergency department where they were often hospitalized, which could lead to longer-term placement including out of state placement,” Delgado said in a statement.

Institutionalization is also costly to the state: During June, Nevada Medicaid spent more than $2.5 million on treatment for children both in and out of state.

This is the second known DOJ investigation in the state this year. On Jan. 7, the agency announced it had opened an investigation into the use of pepper spray at two juvenile correctional facilities run by the Nevada Juvenile Justice Services Agency: the Nevada Youth Training Center in Elko and the Summit View Youth Center in Las Vegas.

A spokeswoman for the department said the investigation will examine whether staff at the two facilities use pepper spray in a manner that violates youth’s rights under the Constitution.

Authorities encourage people with information about Nevada’s behavioral health system to contact the department’s outreach coordinator, Sarah Louise Malks, at 202-598-5344 or Sarah.Malks@usdoj.gov.

The civil rights division’s special litigation section is conducting this investigation. Individuals with relevant information are encouraged to contact the department by phone at 1- 833-591-0426 or by email at Community.NVJuveniles@usdoj.gov.

Additional information about the civil rights division of the Justice Department is available on its website at www.justice.gov/crt.

Contact Briana Erickson at berickson@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5244. Follow @ByBrianaE on Twitter.

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