Nevada will keep children in controversial Colorado program

CARSON CITY - Nevada won't pull children out of a Colorado mental health program accused of overusing restraints and illegally locking children behind its walls.

''We have done our own research ... and we made a determination that the children have received appropriate care. They are safe and have never been in danger,'' said Janice Wright, Nevada's director of Healthcare Financing and Policy.

Cleo Wallace Centers provide inpatient and outpatient care for children from Colorado and other states at facilities in Colorado Springs and the Denver suburb of Westminster.

In February, the state of Nebraska decided to pull its children from Cleo Wallace after determining the organization failed to ''provide and maintain quality, necessary, and appropriate services within accepted standards.''

The Moapa Band of Paiutes pulled their children from Cleo Wallace early last year after children started to complain about being physically restrained, said Debra McEwan, the Nevada-based band's social services director.

In the past several years, Nevada has had between four and five children in Cleo Wallace at any given time at a rate of $283 per child, per day.

Nevada children were enrolled in a residential treatment center. The average length of stay for residential children is 18 months. The children enrolled might be referred from the juvenile justice system or have been unable to adapt in less restrictive settings such as group or foster homes.

Residential patients go to school, have off-campus activities and are in long-term therapy.

Cleo Wallace also has a separate program for acute, short-term care or psychiatric emergencies, which could be a single instance of psychotic behavior.

On Sept. 1, 1995, Colorado started a two-year pilot program that put all Medicaid mental health patients into managed care. The result was a substantial drop in the need for inpatient placements at Cleo Wallace.

Soon afterward, staffers at Cleo Wallace were told the program had been given the go-ahead by state licensing agencies to place residential treatment children in the locked inpatient facility.

In early September 1997, Ross Wright, former administrator of the center in Colorado Springs, says he learned no such permission had been granted. He says he was fired when he tried to bring that to the attention of his boss.

But Cleo Wallace Executive Director Michael Montgomery says the residential children sleeping in the inpatient unit got all the appropriate services. He said the locks were not real locks but delay locks that open in 15 seconds if the person behind them pushes a bar.

As for the confusion over licensing, Montgomery said, ''We thought we had done our best to notify the state that because of the tremendous demand for services and shortage of beds this was an acceptable way to proceed.''


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