TAMPA — Amid reports of violence between patients, the state Department of Children and Families pulled three kids from a Riverview children's mental health facility last month and plans to remove a dozen more.
An increase in the number of incident reports filed by the Tampa Bay Academy, a 24-acre campus of treatment facilities and live-in duplexes at 12012 Boyette Road, led officials to start an investigation, said Nick Cox, the regional director for the DCF.
"We are concerned about the amount of reports we have seen on children-on-children issues," Cox said.
The incidents include reports of physical and sexual altercations between patients as well as physical altercations between patients and members of the staff, he said.
During the investigation, a therapist also was found to be working without a license, he said.
In late 2008, the academy temporarily lost a state license after an investigation at the time found assaults and lapses in supervision.
About 40 children — the majority not placed by the DCF — live at the facility now.
"We basically ordered that we want all our kids out of there," Cox said Monday.
Three children from the Statewide Inpatient Psychiatric Program, for patients with serious behavioral problems, were removed immediately, he said. Twelve more children staying in the facility's group homes will be removed in the coming weeks.
"We are not talking broken bones or health issues. The kids are not in physical danger," he said. But there are concerns about the quality of supervision at the facility, he said.
"It is common that children at these locations have problems with staff," Cox said. "But we don't want to see inappropriate reactions from staff that could harm the children."
The facility's license is intact, but it cannot accept new patients while the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration performs an investigation, said Shelisha Durden, an agency spokeswoman.
The Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office also has started an investigation, Cox said, and is helping the DCF investigation.
This is not the first time the facility has come under fire.
In December 2008, the health care administration agency suspended the residential treatment program's license after investigators found evidence of sexual assaults, a fearful atmosphere and a dangerous lack of proper supervision.
To reopen, the facility began again from the ground up — retaining only 20 of more than 150 employees, and changing its procedures.
Attempts to reach Tampa Bay Academy officials Monday afternoon were unsuccessful. Messages left at the academy weren't returned.
Families of patients who are not involved with the DCF will still receive a letter from the department informing them about the investigation and offering help in relocating to another facility if needed, Cox said.