Utah regulators say a girl died after a youth treatment center didn’t give ‘necessary medical care’

Maple Lake Academy is under investigation — and could be shut down — after the youth died last month.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Maple Lake Academy in Spanish Fork, on Thursday, Feb. 10, 2022. The teen treatment center could be shut down after state regulators say a girl died because she was not given proper medical care.

A teen treatment center in Utah County could be shut down after state regulators say a girl died because she was not given proper medical care.

The girl died on Jan. 16 and had been at Maple Lake Academy, a small residential treatment program in Spanish Fork. Her death was attributed to a medical issue, according to state officials.

For at least a week before her death, the girl had reported worsening symptoms to staff, according to a Notice of Agency Action issued by Utah’s Office of Licensing.

“After repeated requests from parents, the program took the client to be evaluated by a doctor,” the notice reads. “After the doctor visit, the client complained of worsening symptoms but was not returned for medical care.” The girl died early the next morning, according to the Office of Licensing.

Utah County Sheriff Sgt. Spencer Cannon declined to discuss details of the case because the agency is still investigating, but he said deputies were called to the facility on Jan. 16 for a medical issue. Staff at the facility had started CPR after calling dispatchers, he said, but the girl later died after being taken to a local hospital.

John Osgood, an attorney representing Maple Lake Academy, said the facility is cooperating with investigators, but disagreed with the state’s assertion that the girl did not receive proper medical care.

“Maple Lake is devastated by the death of one of its students, and devastated by this process,” Osgood said. “Its students are devastated by the events that occurred.”

State regulators can issue a Notice of Agency Action when it finds that a licensed facility has violated the state rules it is supposed to follow to keep kids safe. The action is considered punitive, but can be lifted if a facility comes back into compliance.

For Maple Lake Academy, regulators are requiring the facility to stop taking new clients and ensure proper medical care is being given to the young people already in its care. Academy officials also are required to submit staffing sheets so the state knows they have enough workers, and cooperate with investigators, among other requirements.

Amanda Slater, director of the Office of Licensing, said it’s still possible that her department will revoke the facility’s license, pending the outcome of their investigation. She added that a licensing investigation generally follows after investigations by the police and child protective services.

“When something tragic as a loss of life happens, we do try to act right away,” she said. “We felt it was important to do an agency action just to ensure the health and safety of those individuals there until we can conclude that investigation.”

Osgood said Maple Lake Academy is appealing the state’s action.

“We dispute the finding of a violation regarding failure to provide necessary medical care,” he said.

Maple Lake Academy’s website says it caters to teenagers who have autism, anxiety, depression and certain learning disabilities. Its girls’ campus can house up to 15 young people, while a nearby boys’ home has 16 beds.

The facility has had limited interactions with state regulators in the past. The Maple Lake Academy’s boys’ campus was required by the state to take corrective action in 2020 after a staff member twisted a boy’s nipple as part of a game, records show. The facility reported that it issued a warning to the employee and reminded employees about maintaining appropriate boundaries.

Youth treatment centers in Utah have been under scrutiny in recent years as The Salt Lake Tribune documented instances of abuse, neglect and mistreatment of young people.

That reporting led to legislative action in 2021 that marked the first reform of the so-called “troubled-teen” industry in 15 years.

The new law placed limits on use of restraints, drugs and isolation rooms in youth treatment programs. It also required facilities to document any instance in which staff use physical restraints and seclusion and to submit reports to the Office of Licensing.

The Office of Licensing also is now required to conduct four inspections each year — both announced and unannounced.

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Mike McKell, R-Spanish Fork, said Thursday that his legislation may not have gone far enough. He noted that there have been two children who have died in licensed facilities since the legislation went into effect: the girl at Maple Lake Academy, and a 9-year-old boy who was left in a hot car last July at a day treatment facility called Roost Services.

He called the most recent death “extremely troubling.”

“I think we need to enhance the tools. Straight up, I think our tools are not strong enough today,” he said. “I will say after passing Senate Bill 127, I think we are seeing some improvement across the board, but there are certain violations that absolutely merit a facility being shut down. ... I think there are violations that are too egregious to remedy.”

McKell, however, is not planning to introduce a bill this session to strengthen the power of state regulators. He said he wanted to wait until the new reforms, which started last May, had been in effect for a year before deciding if more legislation was warranted.