ASHLAND CITY, Tenn. (WTVF) — Two teenage girls died after authorities say they overdosed on over-the-counter medication while at an Ashland City residential treatment program.
Now a former patient of the Oak Plains Academy, who wants to remain anonymous, is speaking out about conditions there. She was 15 at the time and was placed there in 2015 to help with a drug problem.
Online the treatment center is described as a psychiatric residential treatment service for kids 5 to 17 years old struggling with emotional and behavioral issues. The former patient says it's sad the teens died but says she's not surprised they were able to break into the medicine cabinet.
Since 2017, Montgomery County Sheriff's had 238 reports at the address of the Oak Plains Academy. These responses vary from assaults, runaway calls, DCS referral calls, juvenile problems, and many others. The Sheriff’s Office said they do not know how much Benadryl the teens took but will be performing autopsies.
"I had a staff member tell me personally she hated it there. She said the only reason she stayed was because she felt like the only staff member there that didn’t abuse the children," the woman said.
This woman only spent two weeks inside Oak Plains Academy in 2015 but said it was nothing but chaos. She went there after her mother decided she needed residential treatment to continue her road to sobriety.
"The pictures that you’re shown are these nicely made beds, windows that light is coming into, nice rooms where you can sit and read, and watch TV," she said.
It’s not what she experienced.
"They hand you Bob Barker shoes like they do in jail. That’s all I could think about. The walls were just completely bare. Blood stains obviously, dirty clothes everywhere, beds torn up and not made and people fighting," she said.
The fighting is what she remembers the most.
"Kids are allowed to fight whenever they want. Staff members would instigate fights and laugh about it when it happened," the woman said.
Fast forward seven years and the death of two teens flooded her memory from the past. She felt obligated to speak out, knowing she said some of the kids may not have someone to do so for them.
"They told me I started fighting at school or I started doing drugs and DCS took control of me because my parents couldn’t control me, and they sent me here. To hear these stories, it’s really heartbreaking. It's basically a DCS dumping ground. These kids don’t have families to go home to and they need somewhere to stay before they age out of the system," she said.
NewsChannel 5 did reach out to the facility via phone and email and didn't get a comment back about the investigation.
NewsChannel 5 Investigates discovered the facility went through some changes over the years. In the past, Oak Plains Academy was known as The Chad Youth Enhancement Center. Under this name, the facility was the center of two major investigations between 2005 and 2006.
At the time, NewsChannel 5 Investigates reported on the deaths of two teens in a matter of years almost right after they were acquired by Universal Health Services.
Both deaths involved staff using force to restrain these teens, but parents told NewsChannel 5 Investigates that they believed the force was excessive.
No staffers were charged with their deaths, so parents took legal action of their own and eventually settled.
Years later, NewsChannel 5 Investigates discovered other lawsuits against Oak Plains Academy. In 2016, a parent said staff ignored repeated threats of violence against her son. The lawsuit read that instead of providing her son with a safe environment to receive treatment, staff allowed him to be "viciously attacked" by another Oak Plains Academy resident.
NewsChannel 5 Investigates spoke with the teen's mother who says she’s not at liberty to speak about the lawsuit, but these allegations only add to a history of problems at this facility dating back years.
NewsChannel 5 reached out for comment to the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.
They said they are aware of what happened but won't comment any further at this time.