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Psychiatrist Says State School Fails To Meet Professional Standards

federal courthouse
Courtesy of U.S. Southern District of Iowa
A state-run school in Eldora for delinquent teen boys is on trial in U.S. Distrcit Court in Des Moines for using illegal practices to treat mental illness.

A state-run school for delinquent teenage boys has failed to meet professional standards for treating and screening mental illness, according to expert witness testimony during the opening day of a federal trial against the Boys State Training School in Eldora.

Louisiana-based child psychiatrist Pamela McPherson testified in court Thursday on behalf of Disability Rights Iowa, which filed the class action lawsuit against the school in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa. The lawsuit alleges that the school used "unconstitutional and illegal practices on children with significant mental illness."

McPherson, who toured and evaluated the school last year, said at least half the boys at the school had a diagnosed mental illness and are being treated with prescription medication.

She said that the school's program had limited oversight from mental health professionals and did not have mental health treatment plans in place. Additionally, she said the school's frequent use of solitary confinement and physical restraints could be detrimental to students' health.

"Comprehensive mental health screemings are not performed," McPherson said. "Crisis interventions are non-existant." 

The state training school is run by the Department of Human Services. It provides rehabilation and counseling services for boys ages 12 to 18 who are adjudicated delinquent.

The lawsuit seeks a permenant injunctive relief requiring the school to ensure adequate mental health staffing, emergency mental health services and individualized therapy plans.

The trial continues on Friday.

Natalie Krebs is IPR's Health Reporter