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CYFD closes treatment center for children

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The state Children, Youth and Families Department this week issued a cease-and-desist order to shut down Desert Hills, a residential center for at-risk kids.

The order covers a revocation of Desert Hills’ license, which was issued by CYFD and allows the center to operate, and of its certification, which allows them to bill Medicaid, Bryce Pittenger, CYFD director of behavioral health services, said Thursday.

The facility on Albuquerque’s West Side houses about 100 juveniles. Most are from New Mexico and are on Medicaid. Others were placed from other states, and a few are private-pay clients.

The action was taken because of problems at Desert Hills dating back at least to August 2017, when Pittenger took over the job at CYFD. The problems have included clients attempting suicide, ingesting harmful substances, endangering their lives by climbing onto the roof of the building, leaving the facility without permission or supervision, fighting that resulted in injuries to kids and staffers, and the underreporting of these incidents, Pittenger said.

“As a result of a lack of reporting serious incidents, we can’t ensure the health and safety of kids in their care,” she said.

Even with that lack of reporting, CYFD continued to receive information about incidents from relatives of kids at the center, from juvenile probation officers, and from staff members in CYFD’s Child Protective Services division, Pittenger said.

“Desert Hills has a 90-day window from Monday, when the revocation was issued, to assist in transitioning the kids to other appropriate placements.” Desert Hills also has the right to a timely appeal process, she said.

There are 12 other residential treatment centers in New Mexico for at-risk kids around the state, providing a total of 368 beds, Pittenger said.

Messages seeking a response from Desert Hills Chief Executive Officer Brock Wolff were not returned to the Journal.

“CYFD has been working with Desert Hills since September 2017, after an investigation we did and we started sanctioning them,” she said. “We gave them technical assistance and consultations. They had a corrective action plan on health and safety treatment issues we found, and they had a compliance monitor who works with them and reports to us.”

Despite all that, Pittenger said, in April, Desert Hills still hadn’t rectified the problems and supplied requested data, “so we issued another emergency sanction to get them to comply,” she said.