Advocate: Changes needed at state-run center after suicide

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — The suicide of a pregnant teenager and seven other suicide attempts within the past year at a Connecticut psychiatric treatment center for children prompted the state child advocate on Wednesday to call for immediate action to improve safety and care at the facility.

Child Advocate Sarah Eagan released her office’s report on conditions at the Albert J. Solnit Children’s Center in Middletown, which is run by the state Department of Children and Families.

Eagan presented her findings and recommendations to the state legislature’s Committee on Children, urging lawmakers to require routine reviews and inspections at all state-run programs for children, among other recommendations.

A 16-year-old girl, known only as Destiny in state reports, was found hanging in her room in June and died. She was eight months pregnant and the unborn baby did not survive.

After previous suicide attempts by other children, officials found problems including insufficient supervision and suicide prevention measures.

But the Hartford Courant reported in July that three months before the teen’s death, state Public Health Department inspectors found that the center had failed to properly supervise two suicidal patients and the center was placing the residents in “immediate jeopardy.”

The child advocate’s report noted that the newspaper article was the first public mention of the Health Department investigation and the “immediate jeopardy” finding, indicating a lack of transparency by state officials.

Eagan said her office “is recommending to the legislature that immediate steps be taken to revise state law, where applicable, to begin the process of creating a more transparent and accountable service delivery system for vulnerable children and their families.”

Joette Katz, commissioner of the Department of Children and Families, said Wednesday that many improvements have been made at the center within the past year and more will be implemented.

“The profound impact that Destiny’s death has and continues to have on staff cannot, however, allow us to be overwhelmed as we also are responsible for examining what happened and doing everything in our power to prevent such a tragedy in the future as we continue to serve Connecticut’s most vulnerable youth,’ Katz said in a statement. “Accordingly, as we are grieving, we also are acting.”

DCF has hired several experts as consultants to address problems at the center, and after Destiny’s suicide state officials recommended more random checks and surveillance cameras in every unit.

Eagan’s report, however, said deficiencies were found at the center by Public Health Department officials in August, including failure to meet federal requirements on adequate individual plans of care and ensuring safe discharge plans.

The Solnit campus, about 20 miles south of Hartford, includes three residential psychiatric treatment cottages for girls under 21 that have a total of 24 beds. It also includes four co-ed hospital units with another 50 beds.

Solnit Hospital, formerly known as Riverview Hospital, has been the subject of repeated concerns about the quality of care and treatment over the past 12 years, Eagan said.

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