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Bar None facility faces two dozen citations for cleanliness, training & safety issues

March 21, 2019 10:36 PM

A center meant to help children in Anoka County is accused of two dozen violations. The Bar None Residential Treatment facility had two licenses suspended last week.

The Department of Corrections made an unannounced visit to the facility on March 13. Within a day, the DOC ordered 21 children, ages 10 to 18, to be immediately removed.

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“We took action right away and we think that's in the best interest of public safety,” said Sarah Walker, the DOC Deputy Commissioner of Community Services. “More importantly, we think it's in the best interest and protection of vulnerable individuals.”

Volunteers of America, which runs the facility, appealed and the state granted a stay through March 22.

The issues were discovered in two units, the Male Stabilization Unit, which supports young people in crisis and provides mental health evaluations, and the Evergreen Unit, which helps those with cognitive delays and behavioral problems.

A 10-page report details 25 violations, ranging from poor record keeping, to improper training, to dirty facilities with leaking toilets.

In one citation, the report says, "resident had left unit (ran away) and staff were unaware he had left.”

In another, it says there were, "Significant medication errors. Not clear if residents received their prescribed medications."

The report also questions disciplinary action, including a type of physical hold, which the DOC inspector ordered be discontinued because of the risk for asphyxiation and death.

Related: Licenses suspended at Anoka youth treatment facility

Volunteers of America has been given 60 days to fix the problems.

“We will absolutely work with them to get them back on track earlier than 60 days because it is a valuable resource," said Walker. "And, what I will say is, many nonprofits go through ups and downs and we recognize that.”

Former employees told us the facility started deteriorating about two years ago, with a change in leadership.

“We used to hold it to a standard- would you drop your kid off there?” said Terry Malecha.

“Typically, when [inspectors] came through we were given the report and corrections that needed to be made but I don’t ever remember seeing one that extensive.”

He spent 25 years with the facility, first as a counselor and then as the maintenance supervisor. He left that position last May citing a lack of resources and high turnover.

“In reading that report, it kind of it really makes me sad,” said Malecha. “But, it's kind of like how it was when I left and nothing was done.”

The DOC has visited three times in the last year and a half, according to Walker.

The report from Oct. 4, 2017 shows total compliance.

“We do extremely regular inspections,” said Walker. “In August, we cited some concerns and, like most agencies or organizations, there’s always something that could be improved. I think that we acted quickly because we saw a rapid deterioration of the inspection requirements.”

She said they are working to address the issues with VOA.

“I would hope that we we'll be able to announce some sort of change in our course of action within the next week,” said Walker. “I do think Volunteers of America has a long history of providing really important and critical services in areas other nonprofits and agencies stay away from.”

VOA declined an interview with 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS.

The organization sent a statement, which read in part, “VOA leadership have a meeting scheduled with DOC to discuss the issues surrounding the report and the appeal. VOA has operated the Bar None facility for over 50 years and expects to re-open the DOC units in order to serve these vulnerable youth once all issues identified by the DOC have been resolved. Bar None continues to operate other services at Bar None during this time.”

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Callan Gray

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