Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

License suspended for children's mental health facility, but its group homes stay open

TAMPA — When state officials suspended Tampa Bay Academy's license for a residential mental health program last week, they didn't touch its group homes.

Forty-six children between the ages of 8 and 18 continue to live on the Riverview campus in five group homes, designed for kids with less intensive mental health needs than those in the now-closed treatment center.

Yet inspectors with the Agency for Health Care Administration cited Tampa Bay Academy's group homes last year for problems similar to those that led them to close the 54-patient residential treatment center — an unreported abuse allegation and insufficient oversight by the staff.

Rich Warden, Tampa Bay Academy's new executive director, said the findings are at odds with what he's witnessed.

"It's certainly not indicative of what I've seen in my two months here," Warden said. "I think the people who are working and running the group homes are doing a very good job."

State documents show that, in November, a group home therapist failed to immediately report an incident of abuse. She witnessed a staff member shaking a resident by the shoulders, according to a Nov. 7 inspection report by the Health Care Administration.

The therapist reported the incident 18 hours later, but the staffer accused of the abuse remained on campus for nearly nine more hours — also in violation of state rules.

Insufficient oversight

In February, a juvenile known as a flight risk was missing for about two hours before anyone noticed, though staff members had been ordered to keep close watch, according to another Health Care Administration report.

It took a week for police to locate the juvenile, who by then was thought to have committed "several felony acts in the community," investigative documents say.

State inspectors called the episode a "major incident of lack of supervision and neglect."

One person was eventually fired as a result. But inspectors noted that the incident triggered no additional training for the staff until more than five months later, after the state's investigation required such action.

Health officials found more lapses later in the year.

In June, the group home staff documented several incidents in which residents left their quarters at night, ran across campus, scaled a fence and jumped into the facility's swimming pool without intervention.

Over the course of four days, three residents eloped to the pool by either pushing out their bedroom windows or leaving through an unlocked back door, even though staff members documented 15-minute room checks, state documents show.

Despite the recurrence, the Health Care Administration found that the Tampa Bay Academy's group home staff failed to examine why the flights kept happening and took no steps to prevent them.

Homes get checkup

Nick Cox, regional director of the Florida Department of Children and Families, sent a team to investigate the group homes after he first heard that state health officials wanted to suspend Tampa Bay Academy's residential license.

"There was not anything that raised a safety concern," Cox said of that review, adding that the required programs were in place.

Long-term, Cox said, the DCF is seeking to de-emphasize group home philosophy because children bond better when they are in the care of a family rather than shift workers. That trend has no bearing on Tampa Bay Academy at the moment, he said.

Calvin Foster, 81, has his own thoughts about the academy's group homes.

A resident of the Boyette Springs subdivision since 1991, Foster and his wife, Barbara, are used to seeing kids from Tampa Bay Academy wander across the street into his neighborhood. Sometimes staff members chase them on golf carts. Sheriff's Office helicopters join in. "We as residents have gotten almost immune to it," said Foster.

Addressing problems

If the state is so concerned about how the academy ran its residential program, Foster went on, it ought to look at other offerings — including the group home.

"If this is any indication of how they operate, they should not be allowed to operate at all," Foster said.

Health Care Administration spokeswoman Shelisha Durden issued this statement in an e-mail:

"Since each Tampa Bay Academy group home is licensed as a separate entity, each is regulated and inspected separately. Licensed facilities are evaluated individually. Each licensee is responsible for addressing and correcting any deficiencies cited during a survey to the satisfaction of the agency. We, of course, have the authority to act accordingly to protect patient safety and issue emergency actions if that is what is deemed necessary."

Besides the group home, Tampa Bay Academy is also campus to a charter school that now enrolls about 125 students.

Rebecca Catalanello can be reached at or (813) 226-3383.

License suspended for children's mental health facility, but its group homes stay open 01/13/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 14, 2009 7:14am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Pasco deputies: Wife set estranged husband's bed on fire with him in it


    NEW PORT RICHEY — James Brennan Jr. woke early in the morning Thursday to find the foot of his bed in flames.

    Eva Brennan [Photo Courtesy of the Pasco County Sheriff's Office]
  2. 20 great images from around the globe for July 21 to July 28


    Photos of the week for July 21 - July 28: A child bidding farewell to a beloved manatee, racers competing at the Brickyard 400 and the Tour de France, migrants desperately fighting for their lives in the Mediterranean and migrants tragically losing their lives in San Antonio, an athlete and an adorable little kid, a …

    Incoming White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci, right, blowing a kiss after answering questions during the press briefing in the Brady Press Briefing room of the White House in Washington, Friday, July 21, 2017. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
  3. Rubio, Nelson look on as McCain delivers blow on health care


    Watch the dramatic moment when Sen. John McCain strides into the chamber and delivers the blow.

  4. Video: Officer told Venus Williams she caused fatal crash (w/video)


    FORT LAUDERDALE — Video shows a police officer told tennis start Venus Williams she likely caused a crash that fatally injured an elderly man but didn't cite her, saying it appeared the actions of a third driver left her in a bad spot.

    In this Jan. 28 file photo, Venus Williams answers questions at a press conference at the Australian Open in Melbourne, Australia. [AP photo]
  5. Florida 'Dreamers' worry Obama-era protection will disappear


    Andrea Seabra imagined the worst if Donald Trump won: "I thought on the first day he would say, 'DACA is done' and send immigration officers to every house."

    Mariana Sanchez Ramirez, 23, poses on the Tampa campus of the University of South Florida.