GREENSBORO — The young patients might not have known what the law says about restraining a violent adolescent.
Still, they questioned the method used to subdue them at Omega Treatment Center: being held face down into a pillow, hands forced behind their backs as they struggled to breathe.
“I think it’s abuse,” a 12-year-old patient told state investigators in February. “They should not treat us like this.”
On Feb. 12, state investigators shut down Omega — a mental health center for adolescents — after investigating reports of abuse, neglect and dangerous living conditions.
The state issued an emergency order to close the center on Old Battleground Road. Omega’s troubled residents — most of whom have severe mental and behavioral disorders — are living in other treatment centers across the state.
The state’s Division of Health Service Regulation issued its final report last week.
It details a variety of problems. They range from shoddy record keeping, lack of heat and hot water to the most troubling of all — illegal restraint, both physical and “chemical” through the use of injectable antipsychotic drugs.
The report quotes an unnamed inspector with the Guilford County Department of Public Health: “I wouldn’t even allow a dog to live back there.”
The News & Record on Thursday wasn’t able to reach Barsheem C. Chapman, president of Omega’s parent company, Elite Adolescent Care. A phone number listed in his name is disconnected.
In late January and early February, investigators interviewed dozens of people familiar with Omega’s operations — patients, staff members, administrators and psychiatrists, though none are identified by name.
Investigators also reviewed patient files, medication logs and employee files.
This past week, they fined Omega $31,000 for the following violations of state law:
• Failing to use the least restrictive type of restraint possible to subdue the young patients.
• Failing to document the use of restraints and using drugs to subdue patients without permission from a parent or guardian.
• Leaving the children alone on locked residential wings overnight.
• Failing to put treatment plans in patient files.
• Preventing patients from calling their parents.
• Failing to document how staffers destroyed unused prescription drugs when patients left center.
• Failing to providing CPR and other training classes to 19 of 22 staff members.
The center’s director told investigators that the patients didn’t have the proper clothes to accommodate the lack of heat.
“It is cold in the facility,” the director said. “The clients have no warm clothes. … I spent my own money to buy them all coats.”
Omega’s patients are in the category of the most troubled adolescents who require residential care.
Many were prone to violent outbursts. Many have a history of being sexually abused.
One resident, an 11-year-old boy, was himself a sexual abuser. According to the state’s report, he went to juvenile detention once for sodomizing a sibling, and set a sibling’s hair on fire in another incident.
He suffers from depressive disorder and conduct disorder and has severe sexual problems, known as paraphilic disorder.
He told investigators that during one violent episode, staffers pressed his face into his pillow as he lay on his stomach.
“It hurts when you get restrained,” the boy said, “but isn’t that the point of it?”
Another patient, a 15-year-old with a mood disorder, similarly described the restraint method to investigators:
“I couldn’t breathe with my head on my pillow, so I had to turn my head around.”
The state’s interviews with Omega’s adult supervisors supported the children’s claims.
During an interview with state investigators in mid-February, the director of nursing said “there are times when I walk away and I can still hear (clients) screaming.
“The staff wants the clients to learn to stay in line.”
One former employee, a registered nurse, said she heard the screams of a 14-year-old patient with post-traumatic stress disorder.
The nurse then saw staffers use an improper restraint.
“I told them they had to let her up.”
It was her last day working at Omega.
“When I saw that abuse that day, I got the heck out of dodge,” she said. “It’s pitiful. Just pitiful.”
Source: Margaret Moffett Banks, “Update: State orders closure of Omega Center in Greensboro,” News-Record, March 27, 2014.