US centre escapes censure over teenager’s death

  • Sent to Utah: Kirsta Simons (File photograph)

    Sent to Utah: Kirsta Simons (File photograph)


A US residential treatment centre will not be disciplined by state regulators after the death by suicide of a Bermudian teenager, it was reported.

West Ridge Academy, in West Jordan, Utah, was investigated by the state’s Department of Human Services’ Office of Licensing after Kirsta Simons died last November.

The Salt Lake Tribune reported last Thursday: “It found that the treatment centre did violate one rule — that a staff member who was watching the girl should not have been outside the bathroom when she attempted to end her life.

“But no disciplinary action was listed in documents released recently in response to a records request.”

A spokeswoman for Bermuda’s Ministry of Legal Affairs confirmed — after the incident last November — “the unfortunate passing of a child” who was referred to a treatment facility abroad.

Police launched inquiries and said in a 21-page report that Kirsta, 17, had been on suicide watch and under constant supervision from West Ridge staff, except when she showered and used the toilet.

A West Jordan Police spokesman revealed this year that the teenager’s death was “officially ruled as a suicide”.

The Salt Lake Tribune said that the Department of Human Services closed its case in March.

It reported that Kirsta was given an additional two minutes to go to the bathroom after her allotted shower time ended and it was then that she caused her death. She was taken to hospital but died later.

The news website said: “State regulators found that the male staff member who was watching her was conducting ‘verbal check-ins’ that day, but was outside the bathroom — which violated the facility’s policies.

“The facility’s handbook for suicide watch states: ‘You will always be within arm’s length of staff, except while toileting or showering. Staff will be in the bathroom during these times and you will maintain frequent verbal check-ins with staff.’

“Investigative documents say the handbook has been updated and the state licensing worker expressed no other concerns in documents released to The Salt Lake Tribune.

“The West Jordan detective didn’t seem worried about foul play, the report reads, and the medical examiner ruled Kirsta’s death a suicide.

“‘No further action required,’ the report states.”

Janet Farnsworth, the executive director at West Ridge Academy, said last week that student safety was “a top priority”.

She added: “We regularly engage in continuous improvement exercises assessing and reassessing our protocols to ensure that we are attending to the very specialised and acute needs of our clients.

“We appreciate the thorough review that was conducted by the UT DHS staff, and continue to work closely with our licenser.”

Ms Farnsworth said that for privacy reasons and in line with data protection rules, the facility was “unable to comment on any of the specifics of this tragic situation”.

She added: “We continue to send our heartfelt concern for this family as they grieve.”

A spokeswoman for Utah’s Department of Human Services did not respond to an e-mail request from The Royal Gazette for information last week.

She said in November: “When a minor enters our state from another state or country, the sending entity — in this case the Department of Child and Family Services of Bermuda — maintains custody and responsibility for the health and safety of the minor with the programme provider they have selected for placement.”

The Government of Bermuda’s website explained that its psychoeducational programme “was developed to focus on children who could not be effectively treated in Bermuda or those who had exhausted all available therapeutic services”.

It added: “Children are sent to various facilities in the United States and Canada.

“It has been identified that it is not cost effective to provide all of the services in Bermuda, because of the insufficient client base in each area.”

The website explained that young people were treated at “licensed therapeutic overseas facilities” and that the aim was to either reunite a family or find “an alternative permanency option”.

Referrals are made either by the Department for Child and Family Services in an internal process or by the High Risk Intervention Committee.

The website said that all applications for overseas services are reviewed by a psychoeducational committee, made up of representatives from the Child and Adolescent Services section of the Bermuda Hospitals Board, the Ministry of Education and the DCFS.

It added: “The Department of Child and Family Services provides operational oversight of the programme, and currently all funding for both therapeutic and educational services is provided through the budget of DCFS.”

The Royal Gazette asked for comment from the Ministry of Legal Affairs, which has oversight of the DCFS, last Friday but none was received by press time.

Anyone experiencing suicidal thoughts or any mental health crisis can call the Mid-Atlantic Wellness Institute 24-hour mental health crisis line on 239-1111

On occasion The Royal Gazette may decide to not allow comments on what we consider to be a controversial or contentious story. As we are legally liable for any libellous or defamatory comments made on our website, this move is for our protection as well as that of our readers.

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