JOHNSTOWN, Colo. — The mental health facility that once housed Clear View Behavioral Health – roughly an hour’s drive north of Denver – has a new name and new owners.
But Denver7 Investigates has learned that many of the problems that led the state to shutdown Clear View in 2020 are continuing at what is now Johnstown Heights Behavioral Health. The Colorado Department of Health and Environment says it is looking into these claims, according to a statement.
Denver7 Investigates has heard from patients who feel they are being kept at Johnstown Heights longer than necessary and against their wishes. Current and former staff members also say the center does not have enough personnel to care for the patients.
In 2020, the state shut down Clear View Behavioral Health following nearly two years of reporting by Denver 7 Investigates, exposing questionable management of medications, unsanitary conditions, holding patients longer than medically necessary and failing to investigate patient injuries.
RELATED: Clear View Investigation
Denver7 Investigates spoke to four patients who stayed at Johnstown Heights while suffering from mental health issues. Denver7 is withholding the patients’ names per their wishes, due to stigmas associated with mental health problems. They will be identified in this story as “Patients One, Two, Three and Four.”
The patients said they were forced to stay beyond their mandatory 72-hour hold, despite wanting to leave. Some say they were pressured to sign documents agreeing to stay longer, while others were given medication after being told that would expedite their stay. Later, they were told that they needed to stay at the facility for monitoring.
“What they are doing is not right. We shouldn’t be held longer than we need to be,” Patient One said.
Patient Two said they feel Johnstown Heights is trying to keep patients in the facility so that they can charge more money.
“I’m saying they are all about the profit,” Patient Two said. “It’s just not right. It’s taking advantage of everybody.”
Patient Three said their stay made their condition worse, a sentiment to which Patient One agreed.
“I walked away from that experience, I feel like, with extra trauma,” Patient One said.
Patient Four said they were kept at Johnstown Heights for seven days despite asking to go home several times. They said they were told by staff that seven days was normal. Patient Two shared a similar story.
Susan Kitchens, a state-licensed psychologist who treats Patient Two, said it broke her heart to learn that her patient was kept longer than needed. She is not affiliated with Johnstown Heights and treats Patient Two outside of the facility.
She feels the state should look into Johnstown Heights.
“I would ask them to review cases, particularly involving holds where people were not there voluntarily,” Kitchens said.
Current, former employees raise alarm
After Denver7 Investigates visited Johnstown Heights in an attempt to contact the CEO, multiple current and former staff members reached out to share what they felt were poor working conditions.
One employee, who Denver7 Investigates interviewed in silhouette to protect her job, said she also feels patients are kept at the facility for too long a period.
“I don’t think that people should be held as long as they do without seeing a doctor or a psychiatrist or anybody,” she said. “I think that’s the one thing that is the worst.”
A former employee also said that it’s been common to keep patients longer than necessary.
Franceska Costamagna, another former employee, said understaffing was a big issue as beds were filled, but staff was not at a level to cover all the patients.
“Which is extremely dangerous, not only to the patients, but to the staff as well,” she said.
The first former employee, who spoke to Denver7 Investigates anonymously, said they are still on the work schedule at Johnstown Heights, despite ending their employment. They feel Johnstown Heights is doing this to manipulate staffing numbers for state audits.
Shortly after Denver7 Investigates went to Johnstown Heights, an internal email, later obtained by Denver7 Investigates through sources, was sent from the executive assistant to CEO Sean Peterson discouraging employees from speaking to the media.
“If you are pressed to answer questions, you can say we are too busy providing great patient care and are unable to answer any questions at this time," the email states.
Denver7 Investigates did contact Peterson outside of Johnstown Heights. He declined an interview, but did accept a reporter’s business card saying he would call. So far, he has not reached out to Denver7.
In its statement regarding an investigation, the state’s health department wrote, “If a patient, family member, staff member or member of the community has any current concerns about the facility, they are encouraged to file a complaint with CDPHE.”
“The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment is currently investigating patient care concerns at Johnstown Behavioral Health. To perform the investigation, CDPHE investigators conduct observations, review documentation, and conduct both staff and patient interviews. During the investigation, investigators observe patient care both as a part of the investigation and to ensure that all patients are safe while investigators are on-site. Patient safety is the primary concern.
CDPHE will not comment during the investigation and is not permitted to release information about the complainant, patients, or staff who participate in the investigation. Once the investigation is complete, the results will be made public on the Health Facilities and Emergency Medical Services Division website [cdphe.colorado.gov].
If a patient, family member, staff member, or member of the community has any current concerns about the facility, they are encouraged to file a complaint with CDPHE. For details on how to file a complaint, please refer to the CDPHE website [cdphe.colorado.gov].”