New CEO wants to change culture at Newport News Behavioral Health


NEWPORT NEWS (WAVY) — The death of a resident whose medical pleas were ignored. Reports of assaults on both residents and staff. A scathing report from state regulators citing multiple violations.

That’s some of the recent history at Newport News Behavioral Health Center. It provides mental health and addiction treatment for children and adolescents. The man brought in to change the culture is more focused on the future.

“I’m thrilled to be here,” said Interim CEO Larry Kirkland. “I love challenges and I love making improvements.”

And there’s plenty of room for improvement at Newport News Behavioral Health Center, according to a report from state regulators late last year.

They investigated after the death of Raven Keffer. Her pleas for help were ignored for eight days. She was finally rushed to a hospital where she died about four hours later of an auto-immune disease.

The state found 13 violations involving Raven’s care, including depriving her of appropriate services and treatment.

“All that stuff is handled at the upper corporate level, so there’s nothing I can speak to,” Kirkland said.

We asked what changes are in place when it comes to advanced medical cases such as Raven.

“I just trust in my DON, my Director of Nursing, to ensure that (similar cases will be handled appropriately) and then our medical director as well,to make sure that all the policies and protocols are being followed.”

Kirkland further clarified in a follow-up email that those two medical officials “spearheaded a robust, mandatory training program for all staff” prior to his arrival and they “are key members of the hospital Quality Committee.”

Newport News is part of Universal Health Services. It operates more than 350 facilities nationwide. Kirkland comes to Newport News from a Universal center for girls in Florida.

Newport News had reports last year of patients assaulting staff, and a staff member allegedly assaulting a patient. Kirkland says programs are in place to maintain order and safety.

“UHS actually has a very good eight hour verbal deescalation program that they’ve implemented throughout the company.” Kirkland says that session is mandatory for new staff at orientation, with ongoing sessions every six months.

Newport News will put a greater emphasis on trauma-informed care, and trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy.

They concentrate on the needs of young people with disorders resulting from abuse, violence or grief.

“That’s a huge need in the market today, and so we’re wanting to expand on those populations.”

We visited the center during a recent “Walk-in Wednesday” when people can apply directly for open positions. Kirkland says he wants to add about 10 more employees to his staff of about 175.

He has worked in behavioral health for more than 20 years and says the biggest threat to the mental health of young people is social media.

“We didn’t have that stuff, and now it is so easy to go online and bully somebody to the point where it has created issues and even death over the years.”

Kirkland has a lofty goal as part of his 10-year plan.

“Newport News will be known as the best (residential treatment center) there is in the state of Virginia.”

Some of the other changes Kirkland mentioned include NNBHC installing sensors on doors, so that if someone tries to use them to hang themselves, the nurse’s station gets an alert.

Although Kirkland is the interim CEO, he says he’s nearly certain he’ll get the job permanently.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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