Medical director at Union County mental health facility addresses shocking findings

MARSHVILLE, N.C. — There are new concerns about employees working at the Union County mental health facility that was forced to shut down part of its center, due to what the state considers repeated failures.

Channel 9 has been investigating Anderson Health Services in Marshville for days. The psychiatric residential treatment center was supposed to be caring for local teens, but failure after failure forced the state to shut down two of the facility’s residential halls as of Friday, June 1.

A Channel 9 investigation Monday night exposed the problems the state found at the mental health facility.

The reports mentioned missing medicine and patients with weapons, but we uncovered more state documents that show the issues go much further.

A state report obtained by Channel 9 reveals multiple staff members had no documentation of their training, a staffer initially hired as a cook was working as a counselor, the employee who was second-in-charge - and responsible for compliance issues - had no proof of required training, and there was usually only one staff member working with clients, but “maybe two if you are lucky.”

Parents whose child is still at the Anderson Health Services in Marshville told Channel 9 they have been left in the dark the entire time.

A parent of a child at the facility agreed with the state report that the teens are not getting appropriate care.

“It's like trying to breathe with a plastic bag over your head. You try to take a breath, but that bag is getting tighter and tighter,” said Ron Taylor, whose 15-year-old daughter is at the facility.

Parents said they were never told of any violations and that part of the center was shut down. They found out about the shocking violations by watching our investigative story.

“Nobody has told us anything. We've asked what are the violations,” stepmother Iisha Brown said.

Channel 9 found out two residential treatment cottages at Anderson Health Services have been ordered to shut down by the state after "imminent dangers" to the teens between the ages of 13 and 17 staying there for mental health care.

The violations outlined in state reports include a nurse purposefully failing to lock a medicine cabinet because it's a pain, keeping shoes from kids to prevent them from running away, and using zip ties to restrain a 14-year-old girl by the wrists and legs.

“I don't have no words. I cried. It’s horrific,” Brown said.

The report details licensed staff members restraining the 14-year-old girl, who has a history of physical abuse, with zip ties and leaving them there for over an hour.

The state considers the zip-tie incident as a serious violation, classified as the worst violation under state and federal laws. The facility was fined $3,000 for the incident.

This family said their daughter's mental health has gotten worse, not better, since she was transferred to Anderson Health from another facility a month ago.

They said the solution is not as simple as just going to the center and taking her out. The family said that would break her much-needed treatment plan. Plus, they don't have the resources she needs at home, while they're working full-time when their teenage daughter needs full-time care.

“We don't want this cycle to start all over again,” Taylor said. “We're trying to end this cycle, so she can move on with her life."

Despite the state shutting down two of the residential buildings at Anderson Health Services, the facility is still open. A third building isn't allowed to accept new patients, but can keep operating.

Channel 9 spoke to the current medical director for Anderson Health Services, Dr. Stan Smith, Friday. He said eight children are still at the center a week after the license was pulled.

Smith asked, "Why didn't they also put into place to rescue our children immediately? Why do we still have kids at this facility that you deem to be unsafe that are still there?"

Smith said most of the teens who live at the center for treatment are in DSS custody. He said no one with the state, nor the agency in charge of transferring the patients to new facilities, has reached out to him to ask his medical opinion about where the teens should go.

"I know there are about two or three girls who are going to group homes that are totally, I think, inappropriate for their current needs," Smith said.

Because there's a lack of residential treatment facilities for teens who need mental health care, Smith believes the state should have done more to prevent Anderson from closing.

"This kind of stuff shouldn't happen," Smith said. "The state should be able to stay on top of these agencies to make sure people are doing what they need to do, so these kinds of things don't happen and if things do go awry to go in and fix them."

The agency in charge of transferring teens from Anderson Health Services, Cardinal Innovations, sent Channel 9 a statement Friday.

It said, " Both Cardinal Innovations and the state have established and robust investigation processes in place to address concerns and/or complaints about a provider or facility. In addition to these processes, we routinely have staff on-site monitoring the delivery of care and the health and safety of our members.  As soon as concurrent investigations substantiated concerns at Anderson, the state and Cardinal Innovations acted quickly and in the best interest of the individuals on site. We have multiple levels of staff actively working in person with our members who have been transitioned to other treatment settings as well as those that remain at Anderson while their transition plans are being finalized."

On Wednesday, a spokesperson for the Department of Health and Human Services, the state agency investigating Anderson Health, confirmed an investigation in the boys residential hall started on April 9, and an investigation in the girls residential hall started May 17.

However, that spokesperson did not answer our question about why licenses for Anderson Health were not suspended after the state learned about the zip-tie incident in April.

Dr. Frank Gaskill, a psychologist who specializes in behavior difficulties with kids, was appalled when he learned of some of the state findings at the Marshville facility, and shared what should have been done during an aggressive fit by a patient, what's known as a soft or therapeutic hold, instead of zip ties.

"That should never, ever happen. That's shocking to me,” Gaskill said. "It's got to be without causing harm. It's got to be done in a warm, but authoritative way and without abuse, and from what I'm hearing from your reporting, this is straight up abuse."

Despite state investigators visiting the facility in April and verifying the zip-tie incident, the Department of Health and Human Services didn't order Anderson Health Services to shut down two of its residential cottages until six weeks later after more violations were found.

“How did they let this go on for so long? That's the question I keep asking in my mind,” Brown said.

Cardinal Innovations is working to find Taylor’s daughter another treatment facility.

“Cardinal keeps saying we're going to find her a place,” Brown said. “When? If this is an emergency, why don't you have something in place? You're waiting on referrals, what if something happens to her?”

Several local lawmakers have sponsored Senate Bill 594, the Family/Child Protection & Accountability Act, that seeks to overhaul DHHS. It has not passed.

One of the bill’s sponsors, Senator Joyce Waddell, told Channel 9, "[The bill] certainly would address a lot of questions and provide a lot of oversight for institutions and facilities that are working with young children."

Channel 9 has reported on a push for more funding for mental health facilities, especially in these times of school shootings.

When Channel 9 started doing research to track down the funding for mental health facilities, we learned there have been massive cuts across North Carolina.

Agencies that provide funding for mental health were cut by more than $86 million this year and another $90 million next year.

The agency that provides that money in the Charlotte area was cut by $20 million last year and another $25 million next year.

Read more top trending stories on wsoctv.com: