13-year-old commits suicide at Brattleboro Retreat

A 13-year-old girl committed suicide in a group home at the Brattleboro Retreat last Friday.

The teenager was last seen in a common room on Friday evening 10 minutes to 15 minutes before she was found dead in an upstairs room, according to Retreat officials. Staff at the adolescent residence hall called her for dinner, and realized she was missing when she didn’t respond.

The Brattleboro Police Department and the Vermont Department for Children and Families are both investigating the death.

Peter Albert, a spokesman for the Brattleboro Retreat, said psychiatric hospital staff are “gathering the data for the investigation and at some level coming to grips to how tragic this is, and how horrible it is for family — that’s where our energies are at this point.”

The teenager came to the Retreat from New Hampshire in November for inpatient care. In December, she was moved to one of four group homes on Linden Street, a “step down” residence for teens who are preparing to be reunited with their parents or caregivers. At the home, which serves four to five patients, there is less intensive oversight than in the Retreat’s inpatient, 24/7 treatment facilities. Patients have their own bedrooms and doors are not locked, though Linden is staffed by social workers and a child psychiatrist.

The suicide is the second since September when a 39-year-old woman died of a drug overdose in Ripley Hall, an outpatient facility at the Retreat. In 2012, a young man died as the result of an overdose from drugs he took from a nurse’s cart in an inpatient unit the Retreat. A federal investigation into the cause of his death resulted in heightened scrutiny of the Retreat and jeopardized the facility’s license to operate. The Retreat just regained full status after the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid determined in November that the facility met federal standards.

Albert says the Retreat’s focus is on helping the family cope with the tragedy. “We’re not paying attention to CMS status,” he said. “We have to put our energies into doing what we can here to support the family.”

The Retreat notified lawmakers, state officials and the Vermont Division of Licensing and Protection, Albert said.

Courtney Jenkins, a communications official in the Boston office of CMS, said in an email that the regional Division of Survey and Certification was not aware of the Jan. 3 suicide at Brattleboro Retreat.

Correction: A Retreat official says the residence hall for adolescent treatment is more like a group home, and it is located on Linden Street.

Anne Galloway

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