In a rare regulatory move, state officials are shuttering a southern Utah youth residential treatment center after a 17-year-old girl died there in December, according to a Department of Health and Human Services notice obtained by The Salt Lake Tribune.
Diamond Ranch Academy officials received a notice on July 11 indicating that the Utah Office of Licensing would not be renewing its license. The license will expire at the end of July, but officials will allow the Hurricane-based facility to remain open until Aug. 14 as it discharges clients. It remains unclear as of Friday afternoon where these clients will go, but Utah law requires residential programs have and follow a “disruption plan” to keep clients safe until they’re returned to their state of origin, legal guardian or another program.
The state is monitoring the facility during that process, the Department of Health and Human Services, which houses the Office of Licensing, said in a statement.
A Diamond Ranch Academy attorney did not immediately respond to The Salt Lake Tribune’s request for comment Friday afternoon.
In a statement provided to FOX 13, Diamond Ranch Academy executive director Ricky Dias called the decision unfair.
“The decision to cease operations has been spurned by unfair treatment from the State of Utah which has consistently demonstrated its lack of concern for the safety, well-being, and treatment of youth in programs,” the statement read. “Additionally, the Utah State Department of Health Services and CPS failed to provide due process to [Diamond Ranch Academy] and have made false allegations against [Diamond Ranch Academy’s] assistant medical director and [Diamond Ranch Academy] which will be refuted in court.”
The closure is an uncommon move by the state licensing agency that was accused just last month of “ineffectively” protecting vulnerable residents in such care facilities. A Disability Law Center report cited “repeated” instances of neglect and described state regulators as “reluctant” to shut down facilities offering “inadequate care.”
The department issued a response to the report a day later, on June 27, saying the report “paints a picture of government partners unable to protect people from abuse. This is a harsh criticism. But we will own the challenge before us.”
Officials in the response outlined changes to increase oversight, including increased fines for agencies that don’t comply with licensing rules and keeping more information about an agency’s compliance history online at ccl.utah.gov/ccl/#/facilities.
The department said Friday in a statement that it is “serious about owning the challenge” and made this decision to ensure people in such facilities “are able to live safe and healthy lives.”
“DHHS will continue to evaluate the compliance history of any facility before granting a license or making any decision that may affect any provider overseen by DHHS,” the statement read. “DHHS is working to provide the best possible service within the scope of its regulatory authority.”
The decision against renewing Diamond Ranch Academy’s license came after the December death of Taylor Goodridge, who died after suffering from an infection that is usually “easily treated,” her family’s attorney alleged. Two clients had died at the facility prior to Goodridge’s death, according to the licensing notice obtained Friday.
When choosing to deny a license, Utah regulators can consider a facility’s violation history and whether the facility is likely to comply with state rules in the future. Regulators noted those deaths and added that the facility has had its license placed on conditional status for violations twice in the past year — once in December and again in March. It also mentions the facility has been placed under two corrective action plans since 2013.
Additionally, the notice said Child Protective Services had found evidence of “severe physical neglect” by Diamond Ranch Academy’s assistant medical director Brooks Wiley. The document does not offer additional details about the finding, but stated that it shows Diamond Ranch Academy “failed to monitor staff to ensure compliance with the needs of the client, client rights, and the department code of conduct” — a violation of state law.
Goodridge’s family is “pleased” the state “is holding Diamond Ranch Academy responsible for its terrible decisions,” according to a statement released Friday by attorney Alan Mortensen.
“The Diamond Ranch Academy,” the statement read, “has put itself where it finds itself now.”
Diamond Ranch Academy has 15 days to request a hearing to dispute the Office of Licensing’s decision.