By Ruth Brown, Idaho Reports
A state treatment center in Nampa reported a patient death to the Southwest Idaho Treatment Center’s Advisory Board on Aug. 28.
Chad Cardwell, deputy division administrator for Family and Community Services for the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, told the board about the incident.
On Aug. 6, a patient at the Southwest Idaho Treatment Center, commonly called SWITC, began choking while eating an orange. Staff administered the Heimlich maneuver and CPR until an ambulance arrived.
The patient was transported to Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center in Boise where he died after being taken off life support on Aug. 10. The patient’s name could not be released, but Cardwell characterized him as a “middle-aged” man.
SWITC notified Nampa Police, Adult Protective Services, IDHW licensing and certification, and stakeholder groups such as the Council on Developmental Disabilities and DisAbility Rights Idaho, according to Cardwell.
A copy of the Nampa PD incident report, obtained by Idaho Reports, includes the 911 call response because NPD assisted EMS in the arrival.
The reporting party told dispatch the man choked on an orange in the living room of the Birch Building at the SWITC campus and was not breathing. CPR was being administered at the time of the Aug. 6 call, according to the report. The report didn’t include further information and police are listed as only the assisting agency. There is no pending police investigation.
Cardwell told the SWITC Advisory Board that an internal investigation was conducted. Idaho Reports requested a copy of that investigation on Aug. 28, but the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare denied the record request, citing confidentiality reasons.
On Tuesday, Cardwell and SWITC Administrative Director Jamie Newton volunteered to meet with Idaho Reports after the public record request was denied.
Newton said the internal investigation found that the death was not caused by staff negligence and they found no deficient practices around the death. She said a staff member was with the patient when he began choking.
“It was a very concerning incident, obviously this was a big deal because he was a long-term resident at SWITC,” Newton said. “Many staff had developed relationships with him. Many of them were at the hospital and Saint Al’s did a great job of ensuring that our staff could be there with him.”
SWITC held a memorial at the campus for the patient, she said.
Cardwell said a copy of the internal investigation was provided to DisAbility Rights Idaho, and they have the authority to conduct their own investigation of the incident if they choose. As of Tuesday, no investigations have been conducted by outside agencies.
A 2023 report from the Office of Performance Evaluation showed progress made at the facility, following up from a 2019 report that found several problems around staff trauma, injury and patient treatment.
Patients at SWITC are some of the most difficult to place in Idaho and often have both serious mental illnesses and developmental disabilities, as well as other health complications. The facility has faced compliance issues in recent years due in-part to staffing issues.
SWITC is also in the middle of an ongoing project to create a step-down system that would equip patients to better integrate back into the community, a project the legislature did support.