Teen assaults staff, escapes Newport News Behavioral Health Center, police say

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NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) — Police are searching for a teenager who escaped from the Newport News Behavioral Health Center after allegedly strangling a staff member. 

Police were called to the mental health facility around 1:52 a.m. on March 23 after a 16-year-old boy allegedly grabbed a staff member from behind by the neck and told a 17-year-old boy to take the staff member’s keys and walkie talkie. 

The teenagers left the facility, but the 17-year-old was stopped by other staff members before escaping, according to police. 

The 16-year-old boy successfully escaped, and police are searching for him. Officers have taken out petitions against him for charges of strangulation, robbery and conspiracy to commit robbery, police say. 

The staff member was taken to a hospital with non life-threatening injuries.  

The Newport News Behavioral Health Center is a residential mental health treatment facility for people aged 11 to 18. It can treat up to 108 inpatient residents at a time, and uses a “cognitive behavior treatment model,” according to its website. 

10 On Your Side received this comment on the incident from Maria Reppas, Communications Director with the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services:

“Our regulations do not specifically address or prescribe procedures to be followed if a resident leaves without permission.  Children’s residential providers are required by regulation to develop a written emergency preparedness and response plan. Part of this plan is an analysis of the provider’s capabilities and potential hazards, including natural disasters, severe weather, fire, flooding, work place violence or terrorism, missing persons, severe injuries, or other emergencies that would disrupt the normal course of service delivery. Providers are then expected to follow and implement this written plan when an emergency arises.”

10 On Your Side first reported on problems at the Newport News Behavioral Health Center after 17-year-old Raven Keffer died while in the facility’s care in June 2018. 

Raven died of complications of lymphocytic adrenalitis after staying at the Newport News Behavioral Health Center for 8 days. She’d recently been discharged to the center from a rehabilitation program in Arlington after struggling with heroin addiction. 

A former Newport News Behavioral Health Center staffer told 10 On Your Side that Raven’s pleas for medical care were ignored by facility staff — even after she began throwing up blood. 

The Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services investigated Raven’s death, and found that the facility violated more than a dozen standards of care, including depriving the teenager of appropriate services and treatment, failing to document her significant medical concerns, and failing to note her health complaints. 

The Newport News Behavioral Health Center is owned by Universal Health Services, Inc. — a company that has more than 350 facilities across the United States and United Kingdom, and that serves about 2.6 million patients a year, according to its website. 

Locally, UHS owns five facilities, including the Kempsville Center for Behavioral Health in Norfolk. 10 On Your Side reported on Monday that recently staff at that facility were injured by patients after a fight broke out.  

Kempsville Center for Behavioral Health Center staff also told 10 On Your Side that they are concerned about alleged staffing shortages.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates. 

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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