In a rare move, Utah regulators will shut down Spanish Fork teen treatment center

Officials are revoking Maple Lake Academy’s license after a girl died there in January and another girl didn’t receive immediate medical care for a concussion last month.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Maple Lake Academy in Spanish Fork, on Thursday, Feb. 10, 2022.

State regulators will shut down a Utah County teen treatment center after they found two residents did not receive adequate medical care in recent months — resulting in one girl’s death.

It is a rare move for Utah’s Office of Licensing to revoke a license. It has not shut down a teen treatment program in at least seven years, according to publicly available records.

Maple Lake Academy’s license has been under a sanction since February, after a girl died the month prior while attending the 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 on Jan. 16, 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.

Licensors moved to shut down the program last week after they say staff did not seek “immediate medical care” on April 8 for a resident who hit her head on the pavement, lost consciousness and was vomiting. The following day, the facility did not “follow emergency room medical orders and permitted a client with a concussion to participate in strenuous activity,” according to the Notice of Agency Action revoking Maple Lake Academy’s license.

The girl was transported to urgent care two days after her injury, regulators wrote. State officials initially said that Maple Lake Academy did not report that to the Office of Licensing, as is required — but they removed that allegation from the Notice of Agency Action on Tuesday, saying the facility did report the urgent care visit to their office.

Office of Licensing Director Mike McDonald said Monday that his office opted to revoke Maple Lake Academy’s license because of the “similar failure” to seek medical attention for the girl who died and the client who was injured last month.

“Due to the chronic and severe nature of the two similar violations, the office concluded that a revocation was necessary,” he said.

Maple Lake Academy’s owners said in a statement Monday that they are “disappointed that the Utah Office of Licensing has chosen to take such arbitrary action in this matter.”

They say they have been in contact with the parents of the girl who received a concussion, and the parents have been supportive of the program.

“We know that our staff responded responsibly and timely in this case. The Office’s allegations are excessive, in our opinion, and certainly not yet established by any formal process,” the statement reads. “... We understand that the Office of Licensing has a tough job to do, but even in an atmosphere of media sensationalism, due process must not lose out to political expediency. At minimum, we would expect to have ‘our day in court’ before any final action is taken by state regulators.”

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.

It also is clear that state government has gone through a philosophical shift about its role in overseeing the treatment programs since the reform measures were passed. Previous licensing directors often described their regulatory role as “technical assistance,” with the goal of working with the programs — rather than being a watchdog.

McDonald said Monday that his office’s primary role is to verify that “the most critical health and safety standards are met to protect the well-being of residents and employees.” He said if those standards are not being met, the office will take the appropriate action.

“We recognize licensed facilities offer important services in our communities,” he said. “However, we do not compromise on health and safety and we take seriously the trust placed in us by communities, individuals and families.”

Maple Lake Academy had appealed the earlier Notice of Agency Action after the girl’s death in January. It can ask for an administrative hearing in response to the revocation, according to the revocation document, but only if there is “a disputed issue of fact.”

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

State regulators are requiring Maple Lake Academy to transition residents to another program or back to their parents within 30 days. It can not reapply for a license for five years, according to licensing records.

Licensing rules also note that regulators can consider a licensee’s past violations when deciding whether to award a new license.

It is fairly easy to open a teen treatment center in Utah. State regulators require a certain number of staff be hired, including a consulting licensed psychologist or physician. A facility owner must have treatment plans in place and a proper building that aligns with fire safety and other codes.

But state rules make no mention of any needed qualifications for the person applying to open a youth treatment facility, beyond the ability to pass a background check.

Utah’s Office of Licensing has not shut down a teen treatment program in at least seven years. The closest it came was in 2019, when Red Rock Canyon School relinquished its certification after a riot and media scrutiny highlighting increasing violence at the facility.

Since then, Utah regulators have documented instances where staff at facilities improperly held down children or forced them to walk for hours on end as punishment. There has been documentation of two girls in just over two years who died in Utah youth treatment centers — one by suicide at West Ridge Academy, and the other at Maple Lake Academy.