DENVER — After more than a year of uncovering unprecedented failures inside a northern Colorado mental health facility, the state of Colorado has backed down from a move to close Clear View Behavioral Health Center.
That decision, which follows more than a year of critical reports by the Contact7 Investigators, has shocked many former patients and employees.
The Contact7 investigations started last January with information from patients and insiders and culminated last June when state regulators said enough was enough and moved to revoke Clear View's license.
But the concerns continue to mount in 2020, and that is putting state regulators back on the hot seat.
“I understand completely that this is not a popular decision,” Randy Kuykendall, the facilities director for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, admitted in an interview. “But it’s the right decision."
Kuykendall is defending his signature on the new agreement with Clear View.
“This facility currently has no evidence of bad behavior," he said
It’s a fairly shocking declaration considering a full year of sharp criticism from patients, their families and insiders at the facility.
Like a drum beat from former employees and those patients and family members, the message about Clear View’s future in Colorado was made very clear to Contact 7 Investigates over the past year.
“They need to be shut down. There is no reason why they should be allowed to care for people. Not a chance in hell!" one patient said.
Kami Chase’s adopted daughter received treatment last year at Clear View.
“Clear View needs to be shut down," Chase said.
Dozens of other patients and their families have shared with Contact7 Investigates the exact same sentiment.
These comments were made in concert with accusations of mistreating patients. Those complaints resulted in countless unannounced inspections by state regulators that uncovered what patients described in front of our cameras.
Those state inspectors followed the accusations exposed in our reports and discovered substandard conditions. They placed the mental health hospital on a termination track after finding evidence that patients were in immediate jeopardy.
“It means our surveyors and inspectors found there's an immediate threat to life at Clear View," Kuykendall said during multiple interviews last year. “Our message to the management at Clear View is there are problems. Those problems must, and I emphasize must, be fixed."
Kuykendall expressed his dismay at the situation last year, saying he had never seen conditions like this at a mental health facility, and adding he had also never pushed for revoking or suspending a hospital’s license either.
But now, nearly eight months after announcing it was moving to revoke Clear View's license, the state has changed its mind. Contact7 Investigates asked the director if we simply misunderstood the agency’s intent after the long list of continued violations its inspectors witnessed.
“No, you did not misunderstand,” Kuykendall said. “We did not back down. The facility complied."
So, why does Clear View now have an unconditional license to treat patients? It appears one clean inspection back in October cleared up more than two years of what the state had described as unprecedented failures.
“This facility has passed its inspection and has been taken off termination track,” Kuykendall said. “This facility has no evidence of poor behavior."
Lisa Sun does not agree with the state. Just last month, three months after the state gave Clear View a clean bill of health, she spent eight days inside the hospital. She said her quality of treatment there was poor.
“On a [scale of] 1 to 10, I would have to put it at a zero," Sun said. “I was imprisoned. There was no medical care. There was none. I heard over and over again by staff I was safe. There is no safety in there."
Sun provided Denver7 records proving she was at Clear View last month. She also reacted to the state's decision to keep Clear View in business.
“I would say I am shocked that the state of Colorado would allow this facility to be open still,” she said. “There are things I saw at Clear View that should never happen in the United States."
Sun also had a message for the Randy Kuykendall and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment — one that’s been expressed by countless others before her.
“That facility needs to be closed. It should have been closed last year,” she said. “Nobody should be in there. It's better to be homeless. Nobody should be in there, ever."
It’s a message Contact7 Investigates shared with the state's decision maker.
"You owe it to the people of Colorado and to every single person in there to close it," Sun continued. “How taxpayer dollars, Medicaid is paying for that facility — this is wrong and it needs to stop now.”
"I will absolutely investigate that,” Kuykendall responded. “We will not even flinch to take action, further action, against Clear View if the evidence supports it."
But Sun is not only using her words to urge the state to take action. She's also filed a lawsuit against Clear View, asking the legal system for accountability.
“This tells me, from what I’ve seen from my client’s care, this tells me things have not changed,” said attorney Jerome “J” Reinan, who filed the legal action for Sun.
It’s the second lawsuit filed on behalf of former patients against Clear View by the Denver-based attorney.
“It just looks like a surrender,” Reinan added in response to the state’s decision to conclude its move to revoke Clear View’s license. “I think the message is, ‘Hey folks, you can screw up all you want and we're not going to do anything."
Contact7 Investigates’ review of the state’s settlement agreement uncovered a paragraph that is described as legal boilerplate language but does raise some concerns. It includes, "…neither party admits to liability or wrongdoing of any kind”.
“My attorneys tell me the attorney general tells me that that language is boilerplate,” said Kuykendall. He added, “It does not in any way negate the fact that Clear View committed the deficiencies in violations that are of record.”
After months of state regulators uncovering failures at Clear View, the state did not issue a single fine and will not recover a single dollar for the failures at the facility. Kuykendall told Contact7 Investigates his state agency does not have the authority to issue any fines.
Clear View’s new management team denied requests from Contact7 Investigates to react to the state’s decision and to talk about the hospital’s plans for the future.