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Family launch legal action over teenager’s death in US treatment centre

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West Ridge Academy in Utah

The parents of a Bermudian teenager who took her own life at a US treatment centre have launched a lawsuit against the facility over her death.

Kirsta Simons, 17, had been sent to West Ridge Academy in Utah by the Family Court under the care of the Department of Child and Family Services in 2019.

But she was rushed to hospital on November 14 that year and died the following day.

According to a legal action filed by the family against the centre, the facility should have done more to prevent her death.

Johnita Simons, the teenager’s mother, told The Salt Lake Tribune she hoped her lawsuit would help protect other families from similar tragedies.

“It’s a big void in my heart that can never be filled,” she said. “Even though she wasn’t in my care, I loved her. I love her. That’s my child.

“There’s not a day that goes by that my heart doesn’t ache. And even now, two years later, I’m still feeling that loss.”

Thaddeus Wendt, the girl’s parents’ civil attorney, said the family have tried to get records that would explain why she was sent to the facility, but none have been provided.

Mr Wendt said: “What we expect to find in the records is that this was a foreseeable event.

“Kirsta, we know, was dealing with mental illness. She had depression. She had suicidal ideations. Those were known issues.

“Ultimately, her taking her own life at West Ridge Academy was foreseeable. And, we think, preventable.”

The legal action, filed in Salt Lake City last month, alleged that the facility “owed a heightened duty of care” to ensure that children in its care are kept safe.

Legislation to require care centres to develop suicide prevention policies that include a plan for how they will respond when a child is self-harming or is suicidal was passed in the state earlier this year.

Police reports have suggested that Kirsta was on suicide watch in the days before her death and had been sleeping in a common area at the facility so staff could monitor her.

The report said she was given ten minutes of privacy to shower and had then asked a staff member for more time to go to the bathroom, where she then attempted to end her life.

The Salt Lake Tribune reported: “Employees told police later that only a few minutes had passed, but police weren’t able to verify the timeline.

“The recording equipment for the security cameras had been unplugged since September, staff told police.”

Police closed the case without any charges.

Utah regulators later found that the facility had breached regulations because the staff member tasked with watching the girl should have been outside of the restroom and made “frequent verbal check-ins” with her, but no disciplinary action was taken.

Counsel for Kirsta’s family however argue that the facility was negligent, arguing that the teen was not properly supervised and the centre did not have proper procedures to gauge when a “higher level of care” was needed.

Earlier this year the Utah Senate voted unanimously in favour of a bill to increase oversight of the state’s “troubled-teen” industry and place limits on the use of restraints, drugs and isolation rooms.

• 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

Missed dearly: Kirsta with Johnita Simons (Photograph supplied) (Photograph supplied)