A judge found Daybreak Youth Services in contempt Thursday and fined the nonprofit at least $10,000 after they flouted a court order by continuing to operate without a license.
The ruling is the latest in a flurry of litigation following two health law judges’ decisions in late May to allow the Washington State Department of Health to suspend Daybreak’s licenses at its Spokane and Brush Prairie inpatient facilities.
The Department of Health began investigating “patient boundary issues” with a staff member at the Spokane inpatient facility that helps teen girls in March 2022.
A staff member was accused of coming to the facility to “hang with the girls” on his days off and “slut-shaming” the teens by commenting on their attire. He was subsequently fired.
However, Daybreak refused to provide information on the situation requested by state investigators, according to the health department.
The department issued an intent to suspend Daybreak’s license in August, which the facility appealed.
Daybreak, founded in 1978, offers trauma-focused addiction and mental health treatment for youths ages 12 to 18. The Spokane inpatient facility, at 628 South Cowley St., can treat up to 36 girls at a time. The Vancouver-area clinic, called Brush Prairie, treats boys. Daybreak also offers outpatient co-ed clinics and counseling in Spokane Valley.
The Brush Prairie clinic had regulatory issues dating back to at least 2018, including after multiple staff members were charged with crimes, among them sexual misconduct, at the facility.
The facilities were some of the only residential treatment centers for youth in Washington. There were fewer than 150 residential treatment beds for youth with substance use disorder in April, according to department of health data.
Suspended licenses lead to legal battle
The Department of Health announced on May 26 that it had suspended Daybreak’s licenses after the facility repeatedly failed to cooperate with investigations into patient safety concerns.
At the time, the facilities had just over 90 patients. Daybreak was required to cease operations and relocate its patients as quickly as possible, while also filing a closure plan with the department of health.
Daybreak has argued, through its attorney David H. Smith, that it was impossible to transfer patients and create a closure plan over Memorial Day weekend.
The facility continued operating and did not file a plan within the required four-day window. After confirming Daybreak continued to operate, the department of health sought a temporary restraining order to force the facilities’ closure in Thurston County Superior Court on June 1.
Judge Indu Thomas issued an order forcing the facility to close after a hearing, which Daybreak said it was not provided notice of.
The department of health argued in court filings that despite not being required to provide notice to Daybreak, they did so via email the day before the hearing.
Daybreak continued operating June 2-6 despite the court order.
“Daybreak was in a position that made it impossible to comply,” Smith said in court Thursday. “It would take daybreak normally several weeks to create a discharge plan for clients.”
During that time, Daybreak filed its own request to continue operating and pause the department of health’s suspension of their license in Clark County Superior Court, where the Brush Prairie facility is located.
Daybreak also argued to Thomas that her order was improper. Thomas rescinded her order on June 7, pending a hearing on June 9 where both sides could present arguments on the order.
At that hearing, Thomas reinstated the order, finding that it was properly requested and fitting based on the health law judges’ suspension of Daybreak’s licenses.
“I gave Daybreak every opportunity to indicate why the TRO (Temporary Restraining Order) was invalid,” Thomas said Thursday. “I went above and beyond what (the law) required.”
Thomas also noted that Daybreak had not asked for a pause, legally known as a stay, on the suspension pending appeal from the health law judges.
“A stay simply has not been requested at the required level,” Thomas said.
Daybreak argued that its filing in Clark County was challenging the order at the required level, in opposition to the judge.
The Department of Health then asked that Daybreak be fined for continuing to operate. Following the June 9 hearing, Daybreak began transferring its patients and had ceased operations as of Thursday, Smith said in court.
“Daybreak is just continuing to operate its facility while there are these valid orders without asking for the relief that is legally available to it,” Thomas said.
She ruled that Daybreak had willfully ignored her order June 2-6, fining the facilities $2,000 per day during that period and any future days they continue operations.
There is a hearing on Daybreak’s Clark County case in early July, followed by a hearing on the facilities’ motion to dismiss the Thurston County case a few days later.
Daybreak has transferred all of its patients, with some already suffering adverse affects, according to a Wednesday press release. One patient already relapsed, overdosed and was hospitalized, the facility said.
Daybreak likely won’t have the money to make payroll Friday, Smith said in the hearing. The facility suspended operations Wednesday pending the outcome of the court proceedings.