Southwest Key admissions ban lifted at one Phoenix shelter




Photo from Facebook | Southwest Key

State health regulators have allowed one of 11 facilities operated by Southwest Key to accept new migrant children after 127 days of an admission freeze imposed under an October settlement, according to the shelter operator.  

The Phoenix facility, known as Casa Lighthouse, has a capacity for 100 children. The admissions freeze at other Southwest Key operations in Arizona are still in place. Children admitted into Casa Lighthouse can’t be transferred to other shelters.

Geraldo Rivera, vice president of immigrant children’s services at Southwest Key, said in a statement the organization has been working in the past months on “enhancing our clinical and operational capabilities.”

“This is welcome news for many children in need of care,” Rivera said. “We view this as an opportunity to start a new chapter in Arizona and look forward to working with local and state leaders to ensure the health and safety of these children while the reunification process occurs.”

Southwest Key is licensed by the Arizona Department of Health Services to operate behavioral health residential facilities, with a capacity to serve up to 1,035 children.

ADHS said in a statement it conducted “a thorough review” of Casa Lighthouse “to ensure Southwest Key had met the conditions of the settlement agreement.”

“The settlement agreement required Southwest Key to significantly restructure operations to provide care for children in a safe and therapeutic environment,” the agency said. 

The youth in facilities like Southwest Key are migrants, mostly teenage boys from Central America, who arrived in the U.S. alone to seek protection or were separated from their parent after entering the country. They are in custody of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement and are in the shelters pending reunification with their families or release to sponsors in the U.S.

Southwest Key spokesman Neil Nowlin said ORR will decide how soon children can be placed in Casa Lighthouse.

The admissions restriction is the result of a settlement with ADHS that came after state regulators threatened to revoke all of Southwest Key’s licences. As part of the agreement, the operator agreed to shut down its largest facility in Arizona, Casa Phoenix, and to permanently close a Youngtown shelter the federal government shut down a month earlier after reports of staff physically abusing three minors.  

The migrant children population plummeted at Southwest Key’s Arizona shelters as a result of the admissions restriction. In January, ADHS said the number of children at Southwest facilities was less than 250, meaning that figure is likely now below 100.  

Southwest Key CEO Juan Sanchez had requested a lift on restriction in a letter to the agency on Jan. 11.

As part of the settlement, the company paid the state a penalty of $73,000, hired a health care management consultant to vet its operations and secured on-site evaluators at each of their facilities. ADHS can visit any Southwest Key shelter unannounced for two years, under the settlement.

ADHS said it will lift the restriction on other shelters on a case-by-case basis. Southwest Key has other facilities in Mesa, Peoria, Glendale and Tucson.

A proposal to add some state oversight of operators like Southwest Key is currently advancing in the legislature.

Laura Gómez
Reporter Laura Gómez Rodriguez covers state politics and immigration for the Arizona Mirror. She worked for The Arizona Republic and La Voz Arizona for four years, covering city government, economic development, immigration, politics and trade. In 2017, Laura traveled the length of the U.S.-Mexico border for “The Wall,” the Pulitzer Prize-winning project produced by The Arizona Republic and USA Today Network. She was named Best Investigative Reporter by Phoenix Magazine in its 2018 newspaper category and has been honored by the Arizona Press Club for Spanish-language news and feature reporting. She is a native of Bogotá, Colombia and lived in Puerto Rico and Boston before moving to Phoenix in 2014. Catch her researching travel deals, feasting on mariscos or playing soccer.

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