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State knew about Tampa Bay Academy's problems

TAMPA — Florida's leading health care agency says it didn't know about Tampa Bay Academy's history of staffing and safety issues when it assumed licensing authority over the residential center in 2006.

But a 2005 e-mail indicates Florida Agency for Health Care Administration officials knew about problems at the Riverview mental health facility for youths. An official even warned others at the state that admissions to the center were being halted.

"Lack of adequate staffing is both dangerous for children and noncompliant with standards," wrote Catharine Goldsmith, then an operations management consultant and Medicaid manager at the Health Care Administration in Tallahassee.

Goldsmith's Oct. 20, 2005, e-mail went to eight people, including four within the Health Care Administration and two at the Florida Department of Children and Families.

Shelisha Durden, a spokeswoman for the Health Care Administration, said the e-mail originated within the Medicaid division of the agency and was never communicated to the licensing arm because, at that time, the DCF was charged with licensing residential treatment centers such as Tampa Bay Academy.

In fact, it was just nine months later — in July 2006 — that the DCF relinquished licensing responsibility to the Health Care Administration.

Still, Durden said, the DCF's information about Tampa Bay Academy didn't pass from one agency to the other.

"Our files for these residential treatment facilities date back to 2006 when we took over the licensure," Durden said.

On Oct. 17, 2005, the DCF halted admissions at Tampa Bay Academy and put it on probation after investigations revealed chronically low staffing levels and an unreported sexual assault by a staff member on a student. State officials allowed the for-profit mental health center to resume admissions in January 2006 after staffing problems were addressed.

But the 2005 charges are startlingly similar to those now levied against the academy by the Health Care Administration.

Earlier this month, the Health Care Administration ordered licensing for Tampa Bay Academy's residential treatment center be revoked after an investigation revealed evidence of unreported sexual assaults by patients.

Despite Tampa Bay Academy's history of noncompliance, the Health Care Administration said its recent investigation was the result of an anonymous tip.

The state agency maintains it knew nothing of two pending lawsuits against Tampa Bay Academy that charge unsafe conditions and inadequate supervision left children vulnerable to abuse.

"These type of facilities are inspected biennially, so unless we receive a complaint, we would only inspect the facility every two years," Durden wrote. "Upon investigating the facility on this latest complaint, the agency acted quickly to ensure the safety of its residents."

Though attorneys for the facility appealed to the 2nd District Court of Appeals to stave off the closure, a judge on Monday denied that request, giving the Health Care Administration the go-ahead to shut it down.

What happens next is unclear.

Tampa Bay Academy attorney Blake Delaney said Tuesday that all but one of the agency's 54 clients have been placed in a new facility. Durden said she has heard that four clients remain in the facility.

Delaney said attorneys are still deliberating about how best to respond to the judge's order, and are reserving the right to further appeal. He said he remains hopeful that the center's leaders could work with Health Care Administration to restore the center's license.

Durden said that after the court matter is fully resolved, "the agency may be willing to discuss options with the provider for continued operations."

Tampa Bay Academy is privately owned by Youth and Family Centered Services in Texas. DCF records show that in fiscal 2004, its operating budget was $155-million, and expenses totaled $141.6-million.

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

State knew about Tampa Bay Academy's problems 12/30/08 [Last modified: Thursday, January 1, 2009 2:48pm]
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