GALETON, Colorado (CBS4) – On rare occasions, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has closed the assisted living facility at Triangle Cross Ranch in Weld County. CDPHE inspectors say the facility has deliberately humiliated, neglected and punished its residents, who are adults with special needs.

Triangle Cross Ranch in Galeton (Photo credit: Kati Weis, CBS4)

Under the facility’s license suspension order, residents were malnourished and underweight. The inspectors even saw residents licking dirty plates and searching the garbage for junk.

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Randy Kuykendall, director of the Department of Health and Emergency Services at CDPHE, signed the suspension order. He said the facility purposely imposed restrictive diets on residents.

“Food was withheld from them as a form of punishment as well as a form of forced weight loss,” said Kukendall. “We once saw residents wiping food from the disposal area.”

Karen Peterson, 53, has been a resident of the ranch since 2014. Peterson has Asperger’s, a syndrome on the autism spectrum. She says everything was fine at the ranch until last year when staff changes and pandemic restrictions prevented family members from visiting.

Peterson says she faced diet penalties at the facility. Peterson lost 51 pounds in 11 months.

(Photo credit: Kristin Linton)

“They would mix my food in shakes and I would have to drink my food out of a glass while everyone else had to eat solid foods,” said Peterson. “I had to eat in the living room while everyone else was at the kitchen table.”

Peterson’s sister Kristin Linton said she was devastated when she first saw how much weight her sister had lost.

“I wanted to cry, she was so thin, so bony,” said Linton. “She had shrunk when I came to her in March (2021). She walked hunched over, wrung her hands, and just seemed very withdrawn and within herself.”

According to the CDPHE, when inspectors asked the facility about the diet restrictions, one staff member said, “We cannot allow them to eat a dozen donuts,” and they only followed family and practitioners’ instructions.

“You listened”: CDPHE says the facility violated residents’ privacy, among other things

The CDPHE also alleged the facility had otherwise humiliated and punished residents. In one case, according to the CDPHE, the facility tricked a resident into picking up alpaca droppings because he refused to play corn-hole. In another case, an employee allegedly made a resident cry for talking over a video game.

Inspectors also said the facility did not allow residents to have privacy and said staff tried to prevent inspectors from interviewing residents privately.

Peterson said the facility opened its incoming mail and would not send its letters.

“It made me angry and I wasn’t allowed to talk to Kristin privately … I wanted to tell Kristin a lot that I couldn’t because they were listening,” Peterson said. “I felt like I was in prison.”

Kuykendall also said the facility prevented the state ombudsman from entering the property.

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“In addition to banning the Ombudsman from entering the facility, our teams were blocked every time we stepped out of the gate by making a phone call and waiting for someone to come unlock the gate, even as much as the one At this point, our team found an alternative route into the facility, ”said Kuykendall. “The rules and regulations are very clear, we are legally entitled to access and we are entitled to private interviews with any resident of a licensed healthcare facility, but significant efforts have been made to prevent us from having these conversations with resident residents Set up multiple times during any number of visits. “

(Credit: CBS)

In the order for the suspension, the health department writes that when the inspectors first visited the residents, they were “friendly and spoke openly and willingly” and “the residents appeared cheerful”.

When the inspectors returned eight days later, the order stated that residents had avoided eye contact, were anxious, uncomfortable, and angry, and that residents had told the department they were not allowed to speak to the department.

“Regardless of their abilities, their disabilities, their intellectual level, their respect and their dignity is the most important thing. Treat people the way you would like to be treated. The way Karen was treated, these employees would never tolerate being treated like that, ”Linton said.

Additionally, the CDPHE found that the facility did not meet proper COVID-19 requirements, including not offering the vaccine to residents and staff who did not wear personal protective equipment around residents. The inspectors also said the facility “did not ensure that hot water does not measure more than 120 degrees Fahrenheit on faucets that we make available to residents.”

“We continued to find excessively hot water, water that could scald people in the facility,” said Kuykendall. “Obviously this is going to be quite a hazard, especially in a facility of this type where the residents are developmentally challenged people in need of help.”

What’s next

Kuykendall said the CDPHE first discovered the facility’s actions when the department received a complaint in April 2020. Kuykendall said the facility was initially fined no more than $ 2,000 for its violations, but the facility refused to pay the fine and the facility failed to come up with appropriate plans to address the issues.

“There has been less collaboration over time,” said Kuykendall. “We certainly felt that the health, safety and well-being of the residents were threatened.”

The license suspension order against the facility was signed on April 7th.

This type of state action is not often seen in Colorado. The CDPHE has closed 27 assisted living facilities since 2013. That’s about three closings a year.

Now Triangle Cross Ranch has an opportunity to fight the order in court. According to the CDPHE, an administrative hearing on the matter could take up to eight months. The facility will remain closed until a judge determines that it can be reopened.

Staff declined to interview CBS4 Investigates about the allegations, but an attorney representing the ranch sent a written statement that read, “It is Triangle Cross Ranch’s policy not to comment on any pending litigation. However, as their attorneys, we can say that the Triangle Cross Ranch board of directors and staff did nothing wrong. “

The attorney also provided this document, saying the facility has “serious concerns that medical records or medical information from some residents of Triangle Cross Ranch may have been copied or removed without written permission from residents or their guardians . ”

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