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Art Levine

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Romney Profits From Bain-owned Health Company Facing Wrongful Death, Neglect Allegations

Posted: 07/25/2012 8:20 am

Even amid the media firestorm over Mitt Romney, his tax returns and his involvement in the predatory tactics of Bain Capital, there's been less attention paid to how he continues to profit from Bain Capital investments that carry out his legacy: maximizing profits and revenues without too much regard for the human consequences.

A new article in Salon I've written looks at a Bain-owned health care company, CRC Health Group, with a legacy of abuse, neglect and wrongful death allegations involving its addiction and teen treatment programs. Mitt Romney has profited from this company -- through his Bain Capital VIII funds registered in the Caymans. He also retains as a top fundraiser former Ambassador Mel Sembler, the finance co-chair in Florida, who has been enmeshed in controversies for decades because of his founding of his allegedly abusive teen treatment chain, Straight, Inc., shut down by the 1990s after numerous lawsuits, state actions to close sites, some criminal prosecutions, and leaving a legacy of damaged survivors.

Since the article was published in Salon recently, I've made radio appearances with guest hosts Mike Papantonio on the The Ed Schulz Show, Karlk Frisch on the Thom Hartmann radio show, and Mark Levine, guest-hosting on a 70-city syndicated show, on a program featuring apparent victims of Aspen Education and Straight, Inc. teen treatment programs.

CAFETY is one of several activist groups with a strong online presence pushing for reforms and offering support for apparent "treatment" victims in the absence of meaningful regulations, including HEAL; Survivors of Institutional Abuse; ASTARTforteens.org, a group of psychologists and academics seeking to warn parents and students about the potential dangers. )

The article, "Dark Side of a Bain Success," also found an alleged culture of what appears to be systemic abuse and neglect at the Bain-owned centers -- despite six apparent wrongful deaths that took place after Bain Capital took over CRC in 2006, with no such seemingly preventable deaths occurring before. The Salon article builds on previous reporting by Time Magazine's Maia Szalavitz, who broke the story in 2009 that the now-closed Mount Bachelor Academy encouraged lap dances as part of what an Oregon agency found was therapy that incorporated abusive "sexualized role play."

(An authoritative list of the main news stories and government reports involving CRC Health's controversial Aspen Education youth division has been posted at the website of the advocacy group known as CAFETY.)

Time magazine also wrote about the new article:

Salon uncovered new allegations of abuse and neglect of teenagers and adult patients -- some [as previously publicized] leading to death -- at drug-treatment [and youth care] centers owned by CRC Health, which is in turn owned by Bain Capital, the private equity firm formerly managed by presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

In addition, the Salon article adds fresh details about locally publicized deaths at Bain-owned residential treatment and wilderness programs run by CRC, including the Tennessean's ground-breaking series on three deaths of patients who went to CRC's New Life Lodge. The six alleged wrongful deaths in several locations nationwide have included a death of a teen in 2009 due to a heat stroke at the now-closed SageWalk program in Oregon run by the company's Aspen Education program.

Although there have been a handful of settled lawsuits, the company has not been found guilty or liable in any court, and its vice president, John Ciampi, has denied that there are any major, widespread problems. In a public response to the Tennessean articles: "Even a single unfortunate incident is distressing to us as professionals. It's easy to suggest that because of a few incidents there are broad deficiencies. There were not systemic deficiencies."

In fact, the company has never acknowledged any wrongdoing. In response to the Salon article, CRC also wrote a reply claiming that its surveys show that its programs as applied work -- although there's no independent, peer-reviewed evidence published in any reputable journal supporting that claim, especially for its controversial youth programs. The CRC reply didn't directly rebut any of the facility-specific on-the-record complaints
from former alumni or employees about alleged abuse or neglect at its programs; our response is posted here.]

But as Salon originally reported:

Our investigation found previously unreported allegations of abuse and neglect in at least 10 CRC residential drug and teen care facilities across the country, including three I visited undercover in Utah and California. With rare exceptions, such incidents have largely escaped notice because the programs are, thanks to lax state regulations, largely unaccountable.

Court documents and ex-staffers also allege that such incidents reflect, in part, a broader corporate culture at Aspen's owner, CRC Health Group, a leading national chain of treatment centers. Lawsuits and critics have claimed that CRC prizes profits, and the avoidance of outside scrutiny, over the health and safety of its clients. (We sent specific questions on these basic allegations to CRC and owner Bain Capital. CRC would answer only general questions; Bain did not reply.)

And CRC's corporate culture, in turn, reflects the attitudes and financial imperatives of Bain Capital, the private equity firm founded by Mitt Romney. (The Romney campaign also did not reply to written questions.) Bain is known for its relentless obsession with maximizing shareholder value and revenues.

You can read the full, nearly 7,000 word story at Salon here. It opens with the shocking death of Brendan Blum, a 14-year-old boy with Aspegerger's whose screams of agony didn't prompt needed emergency care and he died of a twisted bowel infarction at Youth Care of Utah in 2007. It's small wonder that Congressional leaders, including Rep. George Miller (D-CA) and Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) have called for a federal crackdown on youth residential programs.

"No child should be forced to suffer abuse, neglect, injury, or even death while they are trying to better themselves in a residential program," said Harkin when the bill was re-introduced last fall.

UPDATE: Regulatory failures in California and Utah that lead to lax
oversight of CRC facilities are even more pronounced than first reported. For instance, the lack
of tough oversight means that Admissions Director Marilyn Lowe at drug treatment facility
Camp Recovery in Scotts Valley, CA during my undercover visit there could freely boast about
the Camp's main selling point: " All the good opiate users come from miles around to go to this
facility." Former workers say that's because the Camp often allows people to stay on after they're caught "using." Indeed, one frantic worker complained in writing to California Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs in 2009: "Staff is so minimal clients are dealing drugs." (ADP claims they never received sufficient details from workers to investigate or confirm any alleged crimes, while ex-employees say they provided precise details of incidents that were ignored.)

Indeed, my efforts to get honest and complete information from state regulators were often
discouraging. In Utah, for instance, I called the state licensing agency, posing as a parent, and
asked about Youth Care's track record where Brendan Blum died due to alleged medical neglect.
I reached the supervisor in charge of licensors, Jeff Harris, who, after a day or so of gathering
records, told me, "I haven't seen any serious issues," seemingly unaware of Brendan Blum's
2007 death. (Later, the licensing department director, Ken Stettler, blamed Harris's heavy
caseload for the "mistake" while the regular licensor was on leave.)

The short audio links are posted with permission of the Mark Levine program and The Thom Hartmann Show.

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This blog post was adapted with permission from the article at the Salon website, "Dark Side of a Bain Success.": The article was reported in partnership with The Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute, with generous additional support from the Fund for Investigative Journalism. The Nation Institute also posts on its website official documents related to the article, offers a map of key CRC incidents and provides a bigger-print version of the article.

 
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