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Youth psychiatric facility faces additional $120K fine

Updated May 20, 2023 - 12:35 pm

The Department of Health and Human Services intends to impose an additional fine of more than $120,000 against a youth psychiatric facility in Amargosa Valley, according to a letter provided Friday to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

The letter, which was sent Wednesday to Never Give Up administrator Benjamin O’Steen, also bans the facility from admitting new patients, citing repeat deficiencies found during four of the Bureau of Health Care Quality and Compliance’s visits to the facility since July. The most recent visit was March 16, according to the letter.

Never Give Up, which housed children who suffered from a range of behavioral and psychiatric conditions, was the subject of a Review-Journal investigation published in April that outlined allegations of child abuse that led to hefty fines from the state health department.

Shannon Litz, a spokesperson for the Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the Bureau of Health Care Quality and Compliance, said Never Give Up has appealed the sanctions and the state is working to schedule a hearing.

“Additionally, earlier this year, the Division of Health Care Financing and Policy sent a provider termination and sanctions notice due to multiple complaints and Medicaid policy violations,” Litz wrote in an e-mail Friday. “The appeals process for this notice is ongoing. One goal of the inspection and investigation process is to bring the facility into compliance but, as of April 26, all youth have been transferred or discharged from the Nye County facility.”

On April 28, the state announced that it was revoking the facility’s license following nearly two months of appeals. On Friday, Litz said the state is contacting all other psychiatric residential treatment facilities in Nevada to verify that they are in compliance with state laws. Public records show that the state has 15 facilities.

In February, the Department of Health and Human Services fined Never Give Up more than $350,000 for failing to correct multiple deficiencies noted in inspection reports that date back to July.

‘Hostile environment’

Last week, the Review-Journal obtained internal emails from the Department of Child and Family Services showing that politicians in Nye County were concerned about the well-being of children at Never Give Up as early as July 2021.

Assemblyman Gregory Hafen, R-Pahrump, and Sen. Pete Goicoechea, R-Eureka, sent a letter from a former Never Give Up employee to the family services and health departments via a legislative policy analyst on July 1, 2021.

The six-page letter, released Friday by the Department of Health and Human Services, outlined issues such as untrained staff who did not know how to handle children suffering from mental or behavioral health problems, bullying by staff and patients, and a campus infested with bugs. The former employee, identified as Daniel Coppock, said he sat with one boy for hours while he waited to be questioned by law enforcement after a staff member gave him cocaine.

“These are children as young as 8-years-old who are being influenced daily by the hostile environment,” Coppock wrote. “I fear that they are being set up for a life of abuse, neglect, and criminal behaviors, rather than receiving mental health treatment.”

Coppock and a spokesperson for Never Give Up could not immediately be reached for comment Friday.

Details of cocaine use

Two weeks after Coppock’s letter was sent to the agencies, a family services employee wrote in an internal email that a staff member gave three students cocaine and was “terminated immediately,” and the facility reported the cocaine use to the Nye County Sheriff’s Office, records show.

A report from health department inspectors obtained by the Review-Journal identified the staff member who gave the children cocaine as Marc Jones. The report shows that Never Give Up did not send the students to a doctor but that they were monitored by licensed practical nurse Christina Mendoza.

Coppock’s letter did not name Mendoza. It said the boys, who were ages 16 and 17, were “supervised by entry-level, untrained staff until they spoke with police and went to bed.”

Mendoza was arrested last month and is facing six counts, including criminal neglect of a patient resulting in substantial bodily harm and failing to report abuse of a vulnerable person. Police said she did not alert authorities to children’s injuries despite being a mandatory reporter of child abuse. She is scheduled to appear in Beatty Justice Court in June, and she has not been formally charged.

She could not be reached for comment Friday.

Four other adults associated with the facility also are facing criminal charges in Nye County, ranging from child abuse to sexual assault of a minor. Former employees Christopher Burleson and Robert Hutsell appeared in court Monday and had preliminary hearings set for July.

Both men are accused of sexually abusing girls at the psychiatric center.

The Nye County district attorney had not filed charges against Jones as of Friday.

Contact Sabrina Schnur at sschnur@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0278. Follow @sabrina_schnur on Twitter. Review-Journal staff write Katelyn Newberg contributed to this report.

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