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Troubled teen facility in Utah ordered to shut down after child’s death

A state panel determined Diamond Ranch Academy failed to seek medical treatment, or call a doctor, for a severely ill 17-year-old girl who died.
IMage: The campus of Diamond Ranch Academy, a boarding school in Hurricane, Utah.
Diamond Ranch Academy, a boarding school in Hurricane, Utah, is closing.Google Earth

A facility for troubled teens in Utah will close after the state government declined this week to renew its license, citing the deaths of multiple children in its care.

The Utah Department of Health and Human Services on Tuesday informed Diamond Ranch Academy — a residential treatment center that promises to help adolescents with behavioral, mental health or substance abuse challenges — that it will not renew its license because of repeated violations. The facility must discharge all children in its care and shut down by Aug. 14.

The state’s decision came one day after a Utah Department of Commerce review panel, which included three medical professionals and is part of a litigation process, determined that Diamond Ranch Academy had “breached the standard of care” in several ways before the death of 17-year-old Taylor Goodridge.

Taylor, a patient at the facility, died on Dec. 20; an autopsy report found that an infection in her abdomen led to sepsis, a life-threatening condition that is often treatable with antibiotics. A state investigation previously concluded that Diamond Ranch Academy had failed to take her for medical treatment, even though she’d vomited for several days before she died.

Image: Taylor Goodridge.
Taylor Goodridge.Courtesy the Goodridge family

Taylor began vomiting around Dec. 13 and had an “elevated” heart rate, fever and low blood pressure, and she asked to go to a hospital, according to the review panel’s findings this week. She had pale skin and her stomach became distended. However, Diamond Ranch Academy did not bring her to see a doctor and did not bring a physician to campus to see her. The facility eventually took a blood sample on Dec. 20, but she died that day before lab results were complete, the panel found. 

Dr. Danny Worwood, Diamond Ranch Academy’s medical director, was contracted to come in every two weeks. He last saw Taylor in February 2022, the review panel found. He was scheduled to see her on Dec. 21, the day after she died. An attorney for Worwood did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In a statement, Diamond Ranch Academy executive director Ricky Dias said the state government had treated his company unjustly.

“The decision to cease operations has been spurned by unfair treatment from the State of Utah which has consistently demonstrated its lack of concern for the safety, well-being, and treatment of youth in programs,” Dias said. 

Former Diamond Ranch Academy staff members previously told NBC News that facility management taught them that children would fake or exaggerate being sick to get attention or to convince their parents to take them home. The facility controlled when children were allowed to use the phone and whom they were permitted to call.

The review panel noted that Taylor had been a volleyball player in good health before she became sick, and “an elevated heart rate combined with vomiting is concern enough to call a doctor or go to the hospital. Paleness in the skin cannot be faked.”

Taylor, a member of the Stillaguamish Tribe in Washington, had been placed at Diamond Ranch Academy in October 2021 to receive therapy and address behavioral issues, her family said. Her tribe paid the for-profit facility $12,000 a month, according to a court filing.

Accusations of mistreatment in youth facilities

Taylor’s parents, Dean Goodridge and AmberLynn Wigtion, are suing the facility in federal court, accusing it of neglecting to address their daughter’s illness.

“The Taylor Goodridge family is finally finding validation that their daughter’s death was not accidental,” said Alan Mortensen, the parents’ lawyer. He added that the family is glad that the state “ is holding Diamond Ranch Academy responsible for its terrible decisions. Diamond Ranch has put itself where it finds itself now.”

The facility has tried to get the suit tossed in part over technicalities, and argued that a failure to provide medical care would not amount to “harmful conditions.” The litigation is ongoing.

The Department of Health and Human Services said in its letter to the facility that the state already placed Diamond Ranch Academy’s license on probation twice in the past year, and that two children had died in its care before Taylor.

“This was a tragic death of an otherwise healthy adolescent that likely could have been avoided,” the Department of Commerce review panel stated in its finding. The finding added that the panel members hoped the state would investigate Diamond Ranch Academy, and they also “expressed concerns over the entire industry with residential treatment facilities for adolescents.”