ADHS Threatens to Revoke SW Key Shelter Licenses

Results Bring into Question Arizona’s Regulatory Oversight Statutes

Some of the kids that have been separated from their parents by the federal government have been and are being cared for at places run by an organization named Southwest Key. There are 13 such facilities in AZ.  SW Key is contracted by the federal government to provide these services and the facilities are licensed by the ADHS. They’re classified as Child Behavioral Health Facilities. 

Here’s the public health policy rub- even though they’re licensed by the ADHS, the Agency doesn’t conduct routine unannounced inspections at these facilities because they’re accredited by the Council on Accreditation, and Arizona law says that when a facility like this is accredited by “an appropriate independent body”, the ADHS shall accept the accreditation in lieu of a routine agency inspection. Specifically, ARS 36-424 (B) states that: “The (ADHS) director shall accept proof that a health care institution is an accredited health care institution in lieu of all compliance inspections required by this chapter if the director receives a copy of the institution's accreditation report for the licensure period”.

The ADHS still has an obligation to investigate complaints at these facilities because ARS 36-424 (C) says that: “On a determination by the director that there is reasonable cause to believe a health care institution is not adhering to the licensing requirements of this chapter… (the ADHS) may enter on and into the premises…  (to) determine the state of compliance with this chapter, the rules adopted pursuant to this chapter and local fire ordinances or rules.”

A few weeks ago, the ADHS did some on site investigations of the facilities (under the ARS 36-424 (C) provision) and presented SW Key with a list of deficiencies to correct (including better documentation of employee background checks).  SW Key’s response appears to have been wholly inadequate.  In a strongly worded letter, the ADHS let all 13 licensees know that the Department is beginning license revocation procedures. 

SW Key will likely now take their deficiencies seriously (including the requirement to document background checks) and avoid revocation…  but this incident demonstrates (to me) that the statutory framework that allows applicants to submit 3rd party accreditation documents instead of being subjected to an unannounced inspection by the regulatory agency (ADHS) provides inadequate protection when vulnerable children are involved.

Perhaps there will be a bipartisan plan next legislative session to update the regulatory framework for facilities that provide services to vulnerable kids.

You can view the status of these facilities at www.azcarecheck.com and search for the words Southwest Key.  You’d be able to see the results of any complaint investigations or enforcement actions against these facilities- but not the backup accreditation documents from the Council on Accreditation.