Arizona, Southwest Key Programs Operator Reach Settlement In Confrontation Over Licenses

Published: Wednesday, October 24, 2018 - 7:06pm
Updated: Thursday, October 25, 2018 - 1:28pm
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Jackie Hai/KJZZ

The Arizona Department of Health Services and Southwest Key Programs, which operates shelters for undocumented immigrant kids, have reached a settlement in the state’s legal effort to revoke Southwest Key’s 13 licenses in Arizona.

Southwest Key Programs has agreed to pay the state $73,000 in penalties, surrender two of its licenses and stop taking in more immigrant kids at its remaining Arizona shelters, until state officials say they can continue.

“We’re especially glad that they’ve instituted a third-party healthcare consultant to secure compliance,” said Ofelia Canez, an activist with the Uncage and Reunite Families Coalition, which has demanded the state do more to protect kids at Southwest Key facilities. 

The shelter operator will also hire evaluators to work on-site at each of its remaining facilities.

“We will fully and completely comply with this agreement,” Jeff Eller, spokesperson for Southwest Key Programs, said in an emailed statement. “We are committed to making the improvements that are spelled out and we look forward to building on these changes for the Future. [The Arizona Department of Health Service’s] priority of keeping all children in our care safe is one we not only share but embrace.”

One of the licenses Southwest Key plans to give up is for a shelter that federal officials closed in September due to allegations that workers had physically abused kids. The other license is for a facility near downtown Phoenix.

"This agreement, coupled with continued cooperation from our federal partners, will build a solid framework that provides a safe and therapeutic environment for children under Southwest Key's care," Melissa Blasius-Nuanez, spokeswoman for the Arizona Department of Health Services, said in an emailed statement.

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