News & Views - Feb,
1996 Issue #38
WHAT HAPPENED AT SKYLAND RANCH ?
By: Dave Pitkin Founder Skyland Ranch
Gold Bar, WA
The Skyland Story is one of POWER and an agency run amok. It begins in the
early 1990's when we began to have boys, placed by their parents, into our facility which at that time was a clean and sober environment
for people of all ages who were trying to live a program of sobriety.
We believed that, because we were not taking any government money, we did
not have to deal with any licensing agency. In fact, an obscure ruling by the United States Attorney General about the impact
of the Interstate Compact for the Placement of Children (ICPC) drew us into the web. It was ruled that for purposes of the
ICPC, "parents" were "agencies" under the code. Before there can be approval for placement under the ICPC the receiving "agency" must
be a licensed facility.
Once this became clear, we began the licensing procedure which included a
rezone of the land.
In the years to follow, DSHS would review our progress and tell us when we
were doing it wrong. They would not tell us how to do it right however. We continued to try to reinvent the wheel up until July 21,
1994. At that time we had a meeting with DSHS and they told us what their concerns were. Mostly they had to do with the function of
our Program Supervisor. We entered into a letter agreement, prepared for our signatures by DSHS, dated July 22, 1995 which stated
that if we accomplished certain tasks by February 4, 1995, a general license would be issued.
We began to work to bring ourselves into compliance with the agreement of
July 22nd as quickly as we could. During September of 1994 the building was inspected and there were only a few, minor criticisms.
On November 2nd and 3rd of 1994, just three months into the six month agreement we were inspected by 5 people from DSHS, and it was
a hatchet job. On the second day, the Director of Substance Abuse, DSHS Region 3, Dick Jones, was also on the facility.
Mr. Jones asked us to become a short term "treatment center for adolescents".
It was stated that we had little to do to bring ourselves into compliance and that he would "grandfather" Christine, my wife, and
my college hours so that we could be licensed as Chemical Dependency Counselors without the practicum. He said, "we will fill you
up and you will make more money". I declined, stating my belief that short term treatment is not generally effective for young addicts
and alcoholics. I told him that if I were in it for the money I would be practicing law in San Diego. Mr. Jones agreed that the program
at Skyland Ranch was unique to the state of Washington. HE ALSO EXPRESSED CONCERN THAT WE DID NOT REFER RESIDENTS WHO SUFFERED
A RELAPSE TO SOME STATE AGENCY, rather than deal with it ourselves.
Seven days later we received a 27 page notice that our provisional license
was being revoked. We were served at 4:10 PM on November 10, 1994, the Thursday before Veteran's Day, and were told that we had to
have the residents off the ranch by midnight on Sunday. In the 50 working minutes left I had filed a hand written appeal in Olympia
DSHS moved for a summary suspension on the spurious grounds that our residents
were in danger. A hearing was held in 10 days. A letter was received from parents of each of the 11 residents indicating that the
parents had been to the ranch, had observed the conditions there, had observed the improvement in their sons due to their stay at
the ranch and asked that the facility not be closed. The motion for summary suspension was denied. DSHS was fit to be tied.
They moved again for summary suspension of different grounds two weeks later
and that motion was also denied.
At the time of the first motion for summary suspension the DSHS licensor
assigned to us informed us that he had been directed NOT TO ASSIST US IN ANY WAY WITH OUR EFFORTS TO ABIDE BY THE AGREEMENT OF
JULY 22, 1994.
Pending a trial of the matter, we hired a consultant who had dealt with governmental
agencies in the past and continued our efforts to abide by the agreement. At the time of trial we offered proof, point by point, demonstrating
that the deficiencies alleged to exist on November 2, 1994, were not true or had been corrected.
THE TRIAL JUDGE FOUND THAT WE HAD REACHED A STATE OF FULL COMPLIANCE WITH
THE WASHINGTON ADMINISTRATIVE CODE BY THE TARGET DATE OF FEBRUARY 4, 1994 AND ORDERED DSHS TO GRANT OUR GENERAL LICENSE.
DSHS appealed that ruling, and interesting enough under Washington Administrative
Law the appellant tribunal is DSHS itself. THE ISSUE ON APPEAL WAS SIMPLY WHETHER OR NOT THE AGENCY WAS BOUND BY ITS AGREEMENT
OF JULY 22, 1994. DSHS had until June 30, 1995 to file its appeal. It asked for an extension of time until August 22, 1995. We
heard nothing for many months. By this time we had been operating for 9 months without a visit from DSHS.
On a Wednesday in September we were notified that we were going to be inspected
the following day. I said fine but you should be advised that we are in the middle of a remodel of the facility including the installation
of wall to wall carpet and painting throughout. Seven people from Olympia descended upon us over the next two days.
A report was filed which included comments about dirt on the floors, (observed
since we had rolled up the carpets and hadn't cleaned the floors prior to their arrival) rolls of carpet in the hallways which might
prove a hazard since these were fire escape routes, covers off electrical outlets (removed in order to paid the walls), tires which
we use to make horse training courses, (alleged to be "potential habitant for rodents") AND THAT THE LIVING ROOM RUG HAD A STAIN
NOWHERE IN THE REPORT DID IT MENTION THAT ALL OF THE RESIDENT'S PERSONAL
EFFECTS WERE PILED IN THE LIVING ROOM BECAUSE WE WERE REMODELING THE ENTIRE BUILDING, or that the stained living room rug was
in the process of being replaced.
On the 21st of December, 1995 we were notified that the reviewing DSHS employee
had overturned the Law Judge's ruling and that we were being closed down. The ruling states simply that DSHS WAS NOT BOUND BY
ITS AGREEMENT WITH US AND THAT THEY HAD THE POWER TO SHUT US DOWN in November of 1994.
NOTHING IN THE ACTION OF DSHS IN CLOSING SKYLAND RANCH RELATES TO CONDITIONS
WHICH ARE PRESENT NOW. IT IS NOT ALLEGED THAT WE ARE NOT NOW IN COMPLIANCE nor that our staffing is not adequate.
The parents of all of our residents were served with a 22 page document containing
allegations of conditions which were ALLEGED to exist in November of 1994, not with standing the fact that most of these were disproved
at the trial by competent evidence.
During the last two weeks we were inspected by a worker from the Child Protection
Service who had never been on the ranch before. After his inspection he came to me and said, "this facility is clearly adequate, why
are they closing you down"? I said, "OK Boys Ranch." He nodded his head, turned and left.
The OK Boys Ranch was a facility in Olympia, funded by the state, where boys
were placed by the state and monitored by DSHS. It was "Lord of the Flies" with allegations of physical and sexual abuse, known to
DSHS, rampant. 32 boys from that facility sued the State of Washington and DSHS and collected a judgment in excess of 13 million dollars.
In the past two months the Director, Assistant Director and Program Supervisor were indicted on 308 counts of Felony Child Neglect.
The Attorney General made a public announcement that she would prosecute the individual DSHS licensor if she could.
In a recent conversation with Scott Majors, the Assistant Attorney General
assigned to this case, I expressed dismay that DSHS would seek to close down an agency which had done all that they had asked us to
do. He said, "If you think the Department ever had any intention, other than to shut you down all along you are mistaken". I am reminded
of a mentality which is that one kills that which one does not understand.
That is the story. What about the future? We will continue to offer the quality
program which we have in the past with two major exceptions. We will focus our attention on life skills so that the transitional adult
can have a better chance living independently and we will not serve any residents under the age of 18, which takes us out of the umbrella
of this unbelievable agency.
Copyright © 1996, Woodbury Reports, Inc. (This article may be reproduced
without prior approval if the copyright notice and proper publication and author attribution accompanies the copy.)