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Wyalusing's trouble has a long history
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A state agency’s investigation into Wyalusing Academy in Prairie du Chien seems to point to a consistent pattern of violations.

The latest report of the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families was prompted by a June 24 incident in which a teenage resident of the facility was allegedly injured during his physical restraint by three staff members and then was allegedly denied medical attention for more than 24 hours.

Wyalusing Academy’s current Executive Director Mary Specht was formally promoted from her position as the institution’s Director of Education in November of 2010 following the retirement in September of former Executive Director Dave Hernesman. On January 31, 2011, Wyalusing Academy received the first of five Notice of Direct Forfeiture enforcements by the DCF under Sprecht’s administration. In all, the forfeitures total $4,700.

The forfeitures, an additional warning letter and a notice of order detail injuries to residents by staff through physical intervention and restraints, as well as abuse of residents by staff, incorrectly administered medications, instances of peer-upon-peer sexual and physical assault resulting from inadequate supervision, delayed medical attention of injuries to residents, and failures to file complete reports of incidents involving residents.

Of the five Notice of Forfeiture Assessments, the first, issued on Jan. 31, 2011 related to an incident on September 18, 2010, when a resident was injured during a physical intervention. The staff person responsible for the violation was terminated by the date of the forfeiture order. No other citations were noted.

All subsequent Notice of Forfeiture Assessment referenced previous citations issued, in addition to those for which the forfeiture was being levied.

The additional enforcement actions were:

• On August 9, 2011 a non-compliance letter was issued for a July 1, 2011 incident in which a resident was not given their medication and a July 15 incident in which a resident was given a medication they were not ordered to take. Previous citations from March 5, 2011, December 9, 2010, September 17, 2010 and June 30, 2010 were noted.

• On March 5, 2012 a Notice of Order to Stop Violating Statute and/or Administrative Rules, Notice of Direct Forfeiture Assessment was issued for a September 20, 2011 incident in which a staff person placed his foot on a resident’s neck and pressed down, leaving bruising. The staff person also placed their forearm and elbow across the child’s neck, making it difficult to breath. Another staffer had to intervene. An additional violation involved a staff person pretending to cry and mocking a child for being upset and crying. A previous citation from December 14, 2011 was noted.

• On May 29, 2012 a forfeiture letter was issued for a March 28, 2011 medication error in which a child was given another resident’s medication of Lithium (mania), Singulair (asthma), Depakote (mania, seizures), Abilify (antipsychotic), and Trazadone (antidepressant) rather than their medication of Adderall (for treatment of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). Also cited was an April 2, 2013 failure to administer medications to two children.  Previous citations on November 11, 2011, March 5, 2011, December 9, 2010, September 17, 2017, June 30, 2010 and a warning letter from August 29, 2011 were noted.

• On May 29, 2012 a non-compliance letter was issued for ten incomplete or not reported serious incident reports occurring between March 17, 2011 and April 25, 2012. Previous citations from March 5, 2011, January 26, 2012, and March 6, 2012 were noted. The letter also referenced an improper physical holding report from April 23, 2012, noting previous citations from December 14, 2011 and March 6, 2012 visits.

• On August 23, 2012 a Notice of Order, Sanctions was issued for a June 26, 2012 incident in which a resident did not receive medical attention for five hours after an injury and a July 3, 2012 incident in which a resident   did not receive medical attention for three days after first reporting an injury. Previous citations from March 6, 2012 and April 27, 2012 were noted.

• On August 23, 2012 another forfeiture letter was issued for a May 21, 2012 incident in which a staff person kicked a child in the leg and poked their hand with her keys, when they would not move while she was attempting to open their door. Previous citations on January 26, 2012 and November 22, 2011 and a previous forfeiture dated March 5, 2012 were noted.

• On August 23, 2012 a forfeiture letter was issued for series of incidents. The first was on May 15, 2012 when failure to properly supervise residents resulted in sexual assault of a resident by another resident. The assaulted resident had reported a previous sexual assault two weeks prior by the same assailant. The second incident was on May 29, 2012 when inadequate supervision resulted in two physically aggressive residents first attacking a third resident during transport and then outside the van. The third incident occurred on July 7, 2012 when a physical altercation occurred without appropriate supervision to ensure safety. The fourth incident occurred on July 2, 2012 when staff failed to provide appropriate supervision and a resident was able to strike another resident during transport. The fifth incident involved a supervising failure that allowed a resident to strike another resident in the head multiple times. Previous citations from March 5, 2011, January 26, 2012, March 6, 2012, March 16, 2012, April 27, 2012, June 6, 2012, June 28, 2012, and a Warning Letter from May 29, 2012 were noted.

Sprecht, who has declined to speak directly to the press, issued a statement on September 23, 2013 through the Milwaukee public relations firm Mueller Communications, Inc.

“Because we have filed an appeal, the state has now suspended the recent revocation of our license to operate the facility,” Sprecht explained.

“Wyalusing Academy is looking forward to meeting with the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families to discuss operations at the residential care center for children and youth.

“During this review process, Wyalusing Academy will continue to serve children and youth as it normally does. However, the state does require that a temporary hold be put on admissions during the review.

“We expect our discussions with the Department of Children and Families to be productive and to yield ideas on how the facility can continue to effectively serve children and their families.

“Wyalusing Academy has always strived to provide for the safety and well-being of our residents,” Sprecht concluded. “We have a high success rate in providing residents with appropriate treatment. Through the years, satisfaction surveys indicate that over 80 percent of placing agencies have indicated that Wyalusing provides appropriate treatment and lengths of stay, and over 90 percent of placing agencies indicate they would place another child at Wyalusing Academy.”

The revocation of a facility’s license is infrequent and is reserved only for the most serious circumstances, according DCF Communications Director Joe Scialfa.

The Wyalusing Academy opened in 1969 as a Residential Treatment Facility. Prior to that, the facility served for almost a century as St. Mary’s Academy, a Catholic girls’ school.