'Sobriety for Sale' series prompts internal DSHS investigation

KING 5 Investigator Chris Ingalls reports.

The Washington Department of Social and Health Services is pursuing an investigation of one of its own agencies in the wake of KING 5's Sobriety for Sale series.

DSHS Assistant Secretary Carla Reyes ordered the probe after whistleblowers told the KING 5 Investigators about serious problems at the Division of Behavioral Health and Recovery (DBHR).

"After the investigation is complete, we will update KING 5 with our findings," DSHS spokesperson Kelly Stowe said in an email confirming the investigation.

DSHS's internal probe comes as another whistleblower – the third former DBHR employee to appear in a KING story – came forward.

“I left DBHR because I couldn’t go to work every day knowing I was working for an unethical agency,” said Brian Barr.  He left his job as a senior inspector after ten years at DBHR.

The Division of Behavioral Health and Recovery is the state’s watchdog over 570 licensed drug and alcohol treatment centers in Washington. The agency licenses and inspects treatment clinics, and responds to complaints filed against them.

In a May 16 KING 5 story, two of Barr’s veteran co-workers revealed that DBHR managers and the Washington Attorney General’s Office undermined their investigations into potentially serious violations at treatment centers.

Inspector Tammy Wright explained how she uncovered a counselor trainee who was forging a counselor’s signature to treatment records at Abracadabra Recovery Center in Spanaway. Wright, who quit DBHR earlier this year, said she wanted to examine more records and other clinics owned by the same company.

Mary Testa-Smith said she and her supervisor attempted to pull the license of Lakeside Recovery (not affiliated with Lakeside-Milam) in Spokane, after years of serious violations.

Both inspectors said DBHR Deputy Director Dennis Malmer and Assistant Attorney General Robert Antanaitis shut down their investigations and kicked them off of future inspections at those clinics.

Brian Barr says that occurred because Malmer and the AG’s office were more concerned about lawsuits from those troubled clinics than they were about public safety.

“If we just take somebody off of those cases just because an attorney gets involved, we’re not doing our job – which is protecting the public and providing good treatment for people that need it,” Barr said.

DSHS says its Office of Review Consultation will “review the current rules and processes currently happening,” at DBHR.

Barr, Wright and Testa-Smith each said upper DSHS management never questioned them about DBHR procedures at any time since KING 5's Sobriety for Sale series began airing 18 months ago.

“Carla hasn’t spoken directly with any employees regarding this but would appreciate it if you shared that she has an open door policy so if current or former staff members would like to let her know their concerns, she welcomes that,” DSHS said in a statement.

Sobriety for Sale revealed negligence and alleged corruption at a half dozen Washington state clinics, including counselors who allegedly accepted bribes from criminal offenders who are court-ordered into treatment as part of their sentence.  In exchange, the counselors send false compliance reports to the courts claiming that the offenders are in treatment.

-- Follow Chris Ingalls on Twitter @CJIngalls

 

© 2017 KING-TV


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