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State Suspends License Of Tampa Bay Academy



State investigators ordered the removal of 54 children and teenagers from the Tampa Bay Academy in Riverview after finding the academy failed to protect its residents and staff from "known and obvious dangerous behaviors."

State officials suspended the license of the academy's residential treatment program after learning that a staff member had been sexually assaulted and police were never notified. They also found that workers failed to properly supervise the residents, who often fought with staff.

The Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office has opened a criminal investigation at the academy, which houses children and teenagers who suffer from severe psychological disorders and sexual trauma. The sheriff's office wouldn't say what it is investigating.

Officials with Florida's Agency for Health Care Administration accused the academy of "gross mismanagement." Given the academy's "utter failure to take the appropriate corrective actions, it is unlikely that these deficiencies will be corrected in the absence of agency action," state officials wrote in a Leon County court filing.

The agency's investigators conducted their review Dec. 8 and found inadequate staffing at the residential treatment program and noticed workers behind closed doors and secluded from the teens' activities.

Investigators found:

•In late November, on two occasions, one of the residents "sexually assaulted a staff member" in the absence of other workers who were supposed to be on duty. The academy didn't report the incident to health regulators until Dec. 4 and never notified law enforcement.

•On Dec. 1, a staff member was subjected to "sexually inappropriate and assaultive behavior" by as many as four residents, and management didn't get complete reports of the incident for several days. "No action was taken," investigators said, "to ensure that other clients were protected from such behaviors and dangers in the interim or thereafter."

•One resident admitted in late November to being infected with gonorrhea and HIV, and the staff was supposed to watch the resident constantly. Despite that, the resident had sex repeatedly with another resident.

Investigators also found cases where residents assaulted staff members and pushed them into work stations while blocking their escape.

Agency Was Tipped Off

The agency conducted its review a couple of weeks ago after receiving an anonymous tip about conditions at the academy, said Shelisha Durden, spokeswoman for the Health Care Administration. Sheriff's deputies started their investigation about the same time, according to spokesman J.D. Callaway.

Durden said some of the 54 youngsters in the academy's residential treatment program have been moved to other facilities, but she wouldn't say where. The rest of the youngsters will be moved by Jan. 9, the day health regulators officially seize the academy's license.

The Health Care Administration's order also prohibits the academy from admitting new residents.

Rich Warden, the chief executive for Tampa Bay Academy, declined to answer any questions from the Tribune, just releasing a statement:

The academy "takes the health and well-being of the children and the families we serve very seriously," Warden said. "We will work diligently to address any and all concerns that ACHA, our state licensing agency, may have and we will continue to provide high quality services to the children entrusted to our care."

The Health Care Administration's order affects only the academy's residential program. Tampa Bay Academy also runs a group home for youngsters with less severe needs and a charter school that serves as many as 200 students.

Services Are Unique Locally

Few other long-term residential programs exist that can serve the intensive needs these children and teenagers have. Tampa Bay Academy has the only residential treatment program of its kind in Hillsborough County.

The academy is managed by the for-profit Youth and Family Centered Services Inc., which is based in Austin, Texas. Durden said Tampa Bay Academy receives funding through Medicaid reimbursements, the Florida Department of Children & Families and private insurance payments, among other sources.

The academy's cluster of Spanish-style buildings opened in 1988 on 24 acres just south of the Alafia River. Its residential treatment center has the capacity for 100 children and teenagers.

Many of the youngsters are referred there for treatment by Hillsborough Kids Inc., the agency that oversees more than 3,000 children in state custody.

Jeff Rainey, chief executive for Hillsborough Kids, said the agency has checked on its children enrolled in the academy's other programs that provide lower levels of care. Officials didn't find an imminent safety risk, Rainey said.

Rainey said the agency already sends some children out of Hillsborough County to receive intensive, long-term specialized care. Without Tampa Bay Academy, he said, that need becomes more acute.

Reporter Adam Emerson can be reached at (813) 259-8285.

2008 Dec 18