Jun 29, 2023 - News

Utah officials respond to criticism over long-term care facilities' conditions, oversight

Illustration: Gabriella Turrisi/Axios

Days after a disability rights organization released a blistering report outlining the lack of oversight in Utah's long-term care facilities, state health officials say they plan to "own the challenge before us."

Driving the news: Following a year-long investigation into the state's "troubled" long-term care system, the Disability Law Center (DLC) released an 11-page report this week rebuking state licensing divisions and agencies for failing to protect people with disabilities at long-term care facilities.

  • The report centered around the poor treatment that 48-year-old Chien Nguyen encountered at two Utah care facilities before he died by suicide last April.
  • "This is not a one-off. This is a systemic problem," Nate Crippes, public affairs supervising attorney for DLC, told Axios Wednesday.

The big picture: Criticism over the lack of inspections at long-term care facilities in the state comes amid increased regulation aimed at stemming abuse at Utah's youth treatment centers.

Context: Nguyen, who had a history of schizophrenia and suicidal ideation, stayed in Evergreen Place, an unlicensed board and care home in Midvale, for a year before the facility was shut down last January.

  • The facility was closed due to "deplorable living conditions," like raw sewage leaking through the walls and a bed bug infestation.
  • Evergreen Place received several complaints over multiple years for its poor conditions, per the report.
  • "Records demonstrate that state agencies were reluctant to act earlier because there was nowhere else for residents to go," DLC wrote in the report.

After its closure, the state moved Nguyen to Hidden Hollow Care Center in Utah County, where he went days without medication and did not have access to his mental health providers.

  • Nguyen died by suicide after he ran in front of a staff member's car. Before his death, the facility had been cited for "ongoing abuse and neglect of residents," according to the report.

State of play: DHHS said licensing divisions under the Department of Health and Department of Human Services that oversaw over 7,700 human services providers were "underfunded and understaffed" prior to July 1, 2022.

  • Since merging both departments last year, reforms have been implemented to improve protections for people in long-term care facilities, including increasing monetary penalties for providers with multiple offenses.
  • In the last six months, DHHS has conducted 1,447 unannounced inspections and 2,998 announced inspections of such facilities.
  • The public now has access to compliance reports for licensed human services providers dating back to Jan. 1.

What they're saying: "The DLC report also paints a picture of government partners unable to protect people from abuse. This is a harsh criticism," the statement read.

The bottom line: Crippes is calling for stronger oversight at long-term care facilities.

  • "At this point, I think we've done our part numerous times in making them aware of some of the problems we see in our system," he said.

If you or someone you know may be considering suicide, call or text the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988. Ayuda disponible en español.

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