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Tampa Bay Academy to shut down, lay off 199 employees

RIVERVIEW — After 22 years of treating children's mental health issues, owners of the troubled Tampa Bay Academy plan to close its doors.

A residential treatment center and six group homes will shut down by the end of the year, the Austin-based company Youth & Family Centered Services announced Friday. This week the company told state officials that 199 employees would be laid off.

There are fewer than a dozen youths at the 24-acre Riverview campus now, officials said. In the summer, after finding evidence of runaways, bullying and children harming themselves and others, the state put a moratorium on admissions.

The Florida Agency for Health Care Administration began the process of revoking three of the academy's licenses and fined the company $125,000. The state agency licenses mental health facilities and manages Florida's Medicaid system.

The actions were only one factor in deciding to close the for-profit academy, company officials said Friday.

In a news release, the company said it was unable to reduce "monthly cash losses."

Amid talks with the state, administrators for Tampa Bay Academy had agreed to not accept Medicaid patients.

Without new patients or Medicaid payouts, profits slipped, said the academy's attorney, Blake Delaney.

The academy has faced critical reviews for years. It laid off 125 people after losing licensure in January 2009 and was forced to close for a few months to revamp its program. At the time, the state criticized the academy for understaffing and unreported assaults.

Last year, Tampa Bay Academy re-opened with a new staff and high hopes. But it wasn't long before the Agency for Health Care Administration noted cases of violence between patients, runaways, bullying and an instance where a child on two occasions smashed a toilet and used the shards to slit his or her wrists.

"We try to work with facilities because we don't want to revoke their licenses," agency spokeswoman Shelisha Durden said Friday. "But the facility had issues that it didn't resolve."

The academy's closing doesn't stop legal proceedings. The $125,000 fine still has to be resolved, Delaney said. The academy has requested an informal hearing and will dispute the fine, he said.

The academy also has a charter school. Its fate has not been decided but will be discussed at the school's next board meeting. The Hillsborough County school District is not trying to close the school, said spokesman Steve Hegarty.

The Austin company has no immediate plans to re-open Tampa Bay Academy, attorney Delaney said, but will keep its lease on the land.

"There's nothing definitive in the works," he said. "But the location really lends itself to having a residential treatment center there."

Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at (813) 226-3433 or jvandervelde@sptimes.com.

If you're affected by the expected Tampa Bay Academy layoffs or shutdown and would like to talk to a Times reporter, please call Jessica Vander Velde at (813) 226-3433.

Are you affected?

If you're affected by the expected Tampa Bay Academy layoffs

or shutdown and would like

to talk to a Times reporter,

please call Jessica Vander Velde at (813) 226-3433.

Tampa Bay Academy to shut down, lay off 199 employees 12/10/10 [Last modified: Friday, December 10, 2010 11:32pm]
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