State regulators received a warning from a municipal court judge about a Tacoma alcohol and drug treatment center that was allegedly failing to provide court-ordered services.
Those warnings came in August 2014 from Bonney Lake Municipal Court Presiding Judge Ronald Heslop in the form of a complaint against A Change Counseling Services. Heslop was concerned that offenders in his court who were ordered into treatment were not receiving proper services from A Change.
“I was looking at some reports that said folks were doing well, when we could tell that they weren’t,” Heslop said.
In an ongoing series of stories, the KING 5 Investigators detailed complaints alleging that several A Change counselors solicited bribes from clients – many of whom are attending treatment by order of a judge. In exchange for the money, the counselors would allegedly lie to the court and submit reports saying their clients were regularly attending treatment sessions.
Heslop’s complaint – filed with the Washington Department of Social and Health Services Division of Behavioral Health and Recovery – adds to the list of reputable sources that were complaining about A Change. The Pierce County Probation Department and a Washington prosecutor also filed complaints – as KING 5 previously reported.
Heslop says he banned A Change from his court in 2014, suspecting that some of the business practices at the clinic were dishonest.
“Yes, we were not getting correct reports,” Heslop said.
In a brief phone interview on June 22, A Change owner Clarence Farmer said that if employees were taking bribes on the side, he had no knowledge of it.
“I had no clue about that,” he said.
In 2008, Farmer himself was accused of taking a $2,000 bribe from a client who drove to classes from Moses Lake to the Tacoma clinic. The state said there was “insufficient evidence” to make a finding in the case.
“I can’t mention that case because of (privacy) laws,” Farmer said. But he insisted that the man did legitimately attend classes.
“You guys have done such a number on me,” Farmer said of KING 5’s reporting on his clinic – before the phone line went dead.
In a statement, spokesperson Kelly Stowe said DSHS takes complaints like the one from Bonney Lake Court “very seriously.”
She said the state “(was) able to substantiate the 2014 complaint and fined the agency $1,000.” She says DSHS kept tabs on the clinic with four additional inspections in 2015. (Read full statement below.)
Judge Heslop said he isn’t sure that the $1,000 fine.
“I don’t know that would get the message (through), to be blunt,” said the judge.
In its statement, DSHS called on patients and employees to come forward with any reports of misconduct. They can reach incident manager Steve Cazel at 360-725-3706.
Full statement from DSHS:
DSHS takes all complaints received on clinic’s such as A Change Counseling very seriously. That being said, in order for DSHS to take action against an agency’s license– suspension or revocation – DSHS must prove an agency’s failure to meet licensing standards, agency owner/administrator misconduct, imminent risk to consumer health and safety, or failure to correct noted health or safety issues.
In 2008 we received a complaint but the subject involved with the situation wouldn’t to talk with DSHS representatives so that investigation ended. In 2014, it meant we were only able to investigate complaints from courts for administrative non-compliance (record keeping). We were able to substantiate the 2014 complaint and fined the agency $1000. Since the August 2014 investigation, DSHS has continued to conduct surveys at A Change Counseling to monitor the agency. In 2015, surveys were conducted in April, May, September and November. That investigation is ongoing and we are working closely with the Department of Health, which is the agency in charge of licensing the health professionals who work in these clinics.
The accusations being brought to light during this KING 5 investigative series are serious. DSHS wants to take action against agencies who aren’t providing needed services. This poses a risk not only to the patient who is not receiving needed help but to the public who may be put in harm’s way from a person who is not receiving needed drug or alcohol treatment. To do that, we need to hear from clients and staff who have direct knowledge and are willing to go on the record to assist us so that we may satisfy the legal sufficiency to take actions. There is not a statute of limitations on these cases. Any former employees or patients of an agency where there is a failure to meet licensing standards, there is misconduct by the agency owner/administrator or there is imminent risk to consumer health and safety – please contact the DSHS Division of Behavioral Health. We want and need to hear from you.
Please contact the Incident Manager, Steve Cazel at 360-725-3706 or via email, CazelST@dshs.wa.gov.
-- Follow Chris Ingalls on Twitter: @CJIngalls.