Report: Vivant Behavioral Health - Brighter Path - Formerly Known as Sequel Youth & Family Services

Sequel Youth & Family Services no longer exists a business entity. In 2021, the company’s founder renamed it Vivant Behavioral Health in an attempt to save his disgraced business by diverting public and government attention away from Sequel’s reputation for putting profits above the proper care and treatment of children.

Sequel history

Sequel Youth & Family Services was a privately-owned for-profit corporation headquartered in Huntsville, Alabama. It was co-founded in 1999 by John “Jay” Ripley, a former accountant and auto repair industry executive-turned-entrepreneur.

In the early 1990s, after his oil change business was taken over by another company, Ripley, along with a partner from that business, got the idea to start a new venture—running a juvenile treatment center. Before they jumped in however, they visited one in Pennsylvania to see how it operated. At that time, most such programs were operated by the government or charities but when Ripley got a look at the center’s financial ledger, he discovered just how much money was moving through the place.

He realized that the demand for youth treatment was virtually limitless. Most of the customers were government agencies, probation departments, and social services agencies and that they almost always paid their bills on time. The revenue was far more predictable than, for instance, the burger restaurant chain he’s founded and then sold. [1]

Ripley laid it out explicitly in this excerpt from a 2015 speech he gave to a group of business students at his alma mater, University of Baltimore:

“In a restaurant, on a day like this, you’re pretty much shut down. I mean, people don’t go outside. It’s raining. It really affects your business, whereas my business with kids in my programs around the country, I’m going to get paid today for all of those students that are in my academies today.”

This is the essence of the for-profit mental health business model: “We get paid, on time, and it’s government money and there’s plenty of it and that’s what makes this the ideal business to invest in.” [2]

This “philosophy” explains how a corporation, ostensibly in existence to provide a therapeutic environment to troubled youth, can end up in the scandalous and disreputable state that Sequel has.

For-profit mental health corporations like Sequel are in business to make profits for their owners and shareholders and have garnered a reputation for putting profit above patient care and safety. Most of Sequel’s (and other for-profits’) revenue comes from taxpayer-funded programs such as Medicaid and Medicare.

Additionally, the for-profit mental health model keeps profits high by hiring unqualified, cheap labor (even known ex-convicts), keeping staff-to-patient ratios low to save money, and willfully failing to report patient abuses to the proper authorities, so as to prevent government inspections and citations, which can lead to loss of income.

Sequel’s bad reputation grows

In 1999, Sequel had only one facility: Clarinda Academy in Iowa.

Between 2000 and 2014, when Ripley became the majority owner of Sequel, the company grew to approximately 20 facilities. After a failed 2017 attempt to take the company public, Ripley sold majority interest in the company to the private equity firm Altamont Capital Partners (Palo Alto, CA), which reportedly invested $40 million into Sequel.

By 2017, Sequel had acquired another 11 facilities and numerous reports had appeared in the media regarding violence, sexual abuse and child abuse, as well as a wrongful death lawsuit, in Sequel facilities.

At its peak, Sequel owned and operated more than 40 for-profit behavioral health facilities and programs for adults and children in 20 states and had revenues of $254 million. Their facilities included day/residential schools, foster care, juvenile justice, substance abuse, psychiatric residential treatment, and acute psych treatment.

But by mid-2021, nearly half of Sequel’s residential treatment and juvenile justice facilities had closed, mainly due to repeated reports of patient physical and sexual abuse, neglect and decrepit and dangerous facilities. (See “Timeline of Abuses” below.) The majority of these closures followed the 2020 restraint-related death of 16-year-old Cornelius Frederick in Sequel’s Lakeside Academy in Kalamazoo, Michigan. The medical examiner ruled the death a homicide. Three Lakeside employees were subsequently charged with felony child abuse and manslaughter. As of October 2022, one employee, Lakeside’s former director of nursing, has been convicted and sentenced.

With the homicide of Frederick, the name “Sequel Youth & Family Services” became synonymous with child abuse and child death. The company was “cancelled” by the public and the state child welfare agencies which had formerly placed thousands of vulnerable children in their facilities canceled their contracts.

Meanwhile, Jay Ripley was attempting to salvage his business. In April 2021, he had already registered Vivant in Delaware and Kentucky. During September 2021, he registered it in Alabama, Arizona, Kansas, and Nevada. [3]

In October 2021 it was publicly revealed that Ripley had formed Vivant with the aim of buying back majority control of Sequel from Altamont. [4] This occurred: Altamont’s website lists Sequel as being among its former assets.

Obscuring the connection

To further aid in the effort to obscure the Sequel connection, there is no website or other online presence for Vivant Behavioral Health, thus no easy way for the public to find out which facilities are theirs or how many the company owns. (The list below shows ownership status as of October 2022.)

Webpages for former Sequel facilities, such as Mingus Mountain Academy in Prescott Valley, Arizona, now appear online minus any Sequel (or Vivant) branding.

Former Sequel facilities in Alabama are now branded as “Brighter Path.”

Sequel’s Utah and Tennessee residential facilities are now operated by the non-profit organization Rite of Passage, based in Minden, Nevada. In June 2021, the state of Colorado revoked Rite of Passage’s license to operate the Ridge View adolescent residential treatment facility after allegations of drugs, fights, and improper use of restraint on patients.

The lone Sequel facility in Kansas is now operated by an organization called Successful Dreams Support Services. [5]

The name changed but the abusive culture didn’t

In June 2022, the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice closed Vivant’s Charles Britt Academy in St. Petersburg, following the arrest of two employees on charges of child abuse involving a 17-year-old Britt resident, whom they held down and beat. [6]

The Florida Department of Juvenile Justice took action against Vivant again in October 2022, when it closed down Vivant’s St. John’s Youth Academy in St. Augustine, following a riot and allegations of sexual and physical abuse. [7]

As Curtis Gilbert of America Public Media (which published excellent reporting on abuses at Sequel facilities) stated in October 2022, “…Sequel the name might be gone, but the problems appear to be continuing under the new brand, Vivant Behavioral Health Care.” [8]

List of current and former Sequel facilities

Facilities are owned by Vivant Behavioral Health unless otherwise noted

ALABAMA

Sequel of Montgomery – Montgomery, AL - renamed Brighter Path Montgomery under Vivant Behavioral Health ownership

Sequel of Paint Rock Valley – Trenton, AL – CLOSED

Sequel TSI Courtland – Courtland, AL - renamed Brighter Path Courtland under Vivant Behavioral Health ownership

Sequel TSI Madison – Madison, AL - CLOSED

Sequel TSI Owens – Owens Cross Roads, AL - renamed Brighter Path Owens Cross Roads under Vivant Behavioral Health ownership

Sequel TSI Tuskegee –Tuskegee, AL - renamed Brighter Path Tuskegee under Vivant Behavioral Health ownership

ARIZONA

Mingus Mountain Academy – Prescott Valley, AZ

Sequelcare of Arizona – Prescott Valley, AZ

Traditions – Chinle, AZ

FLORIDA

Alachua Academy – Gainesville, FL

Charles Britt Academy – St. Petersburg, FL - CLOSED

Columbus Youth Academy – Tampa, FL

Duval Academy – Jacksonville, FL

Union Juvenile – Raiford, FL – CLOSED

Marion Youth Academy – Ocala, FL

Palm Beach Youth Academy – W. Palm Beach, FL 

Pompano Youth Treatment Center – Pompano Beach, FL CLOSED

St. John’s Youth Academy – St. Augustine, FL CLOSED

SequelCare of Florida – Pinellas Park, FL

IOWA

Clarinda Mental Health Institute – Clarinda, IA – CLOSED

Forest Ridge – Estherville, IA

Woodward Academy – Woodward, IA

IDAHO

Mountain Home Academy – Mountain Home, ID - CLOSED

ILLINOIS

Northern Illinois Academy – Aurora, IL - CLOSED

KANSAS

Lakeside Academy of Kansas – Goddard, KS - now owned by Kansas-based Successful Dreams Support Services

MAINE

SequelCare of Maine – Yarmouth, ME

MICHIGAN

Lakeside Academy – Kalamazoo, MI – CLOSED

Starr-Albion – Albion, MI – CLOSED

NEVADA

Sequel Alliance Family Services – Reno, NV

NEW JERSEY

Capital Academy – Camden, NJ

NEW MEXICO

Bernalillo Academy – Albuquerque, NM – CLOSED

NEW YORK

Aaron School – New York, NY - Sold to special education and behavioral health services provider New Story in August 2022

Rebecca School – New York, NY - Sold to special education and behavioral health services provider New Story in August 2022

NORTH CAROLINA

Auldern Academy – Siler City, NC – CLOSED

OHIO

Sequel Pomegranate Health Systems/Torii Behavioral Health – Columbus, OH – CLOSED

OKLAHOMA

SequelCare of Oklahoma – Antlers, OK

SOUTH DAKOTA

Sequel Transition Academy – Sioux Falls, SD

TENNESSEE

Kingston Academy – Kingston, TN – CLOSED

Norris Academy – Andersonville, TN - owned and/or operated by Rite of Passage

UTAH

Falcon Ridge Ranch – Virgin, UT - owned and/or operated by Rite of Passage

Lava Heights Academy – Toquerville, UT - owned and/or operated by Rite of Passage

Mt. Pleasant Academy – Mount Pleasant, UT – CLOSED

Red Rock Canyon School – St. George, UT – CLOSED

WYOMING

Normative Services – Sheridan, WY – CLOSED

Timeline of abuses

On February 20, 2002, Red Rock Canyon School (RRCS) staffer Darcy Keenan Stowe was found guilty of Unlawful Sexual Conduct with a 16- or 17-year-old. The teen was a resident of the facility twice, during 2000 and 2001, when Stowe was employed there. A lawsuit filed by the teen’s parents in 2004 alleged that Stowe openly conducted a sexual relationship with their son and allowed him to drink, smoke, and cut classes and that other employees at RRCS ignored the affair. Upon his last discharge, the boy moved in with Stowe and her family. Stowe became the boy’s guardian in August 2001, with his parents’ consent. But two months later, the county attorney filed a criminal complaint against Stowe, accusing her of sexual activity with the boy—a felony. Stowe was ultimately sentenced to three years’ probation. [9]

May 2002: Gregory and Moira Lank filed a $6 million wrongful death lawsuit against Red Rock Canyon School over the death of their 16-year-old daughter, Katherine, who was a resident of the facility. While out hiking with two other residents, she slipped and fell down a deep crevice and suffered a massive head trauma. She died three weeks later.

The civil complaint states that on Dec. 25, 2001, four RRCS staff members took 10 students on a hike through the Naming Caves in rural Washington County, Utah. During the hike, Lank and two other students were allowed to hike unsupervised. It further alleged that after Lank’s fall, staff waited about an hour before calling an air ambulance. It was another 90 minutes before the helicopter arrived. School officials should never have "taken a large group of students to a dangerous area" with only one radio and no medical equipment and "Management did not have a plan in place to efficiently handle emergencies or accidents," the suit states. "Because of the defendants' breaches of their duties, Katie Lank suffered extreme physical and mental pain, shock, agony and suffering prior to her death." The case was settled for undisclosed terms in April 2003. [10] 

February 29, 2008: Cynthia and Alvin Robertson sued Red Rock Canyon School, its CEO and other related personnel for negligence, fraud, breach of fiduciary duty and other charges related to abuse suffered by their 12-year-old son, Chase, who had been placed at the facility after becoming despondent over the death of a close relative. The parents charged that the facility promoted itself as “a therapeutic boarding school whose biggest concern was to let each child feel safe and significant while finding worth in himself through a program designed to build on his internal strengths” but that it was actually “dangerous and debauching.” Staff “allowed other students to beat and berate Chase, even to urinating on his clothing and effects.” When his mother asked that he be released, the facility staff talked her out of it by promising to move him to a safer place. Yet they moved him in with two older boys—both adjudicated sex offenders. On the first night, one of the boys raped Chase while he was sleeping. The case was settled in November 2009 for undisclosed terms. [11] 

2012: Staff at Clarinda Academy broke a resident's collarbone using an unapproved physical restraint technique, and were found to have also participated in a cover up of any wrongdoing. Two staff were fired. [12]

August 3, 2012: Red Rock Canyon School staffer Diarra Niccole Fields, 27, was arrested and charged with sexually abusing three male students. The arrest was the result of a 16-year-old resident reporting to his mother that he was in “an inappropriate relationship” with Fields. The boy reported that he knew of another 16-year-old who Fields was involved with. That boy confirmed it and directed police to yet another—a 13-year-old—who Fields was sexually abusing. [13] 

Though he initially denied the accusations, on March 6, 2014, Fields pleaded guilty to felony forcible sexual abuse and was sentenced June 5, 2014 to 210 days in jail and 36 months supervised probation. He is a registered sex offender with the Utah Department of Corrections. [14]

2013: A youth housed at Clarinda Academy passed out the day after being restrained, due to possible head trauma. The child required emergency hospitalization. The staffer who performed the restraint was placed on Iowa's Central Abuse Registry for "founded" allegations of physical abuse. [15]

December 2015: Red Rock Canyon School staffer Jerold Oloti Sua was charged with providing marijuana to a teenage boy at the facility. Other staff at the school reported to police that the boy had been found with the drug. The boy identified Sua to police as the source. Sua assisted the juvenile to smoke the weed and admitted himself to smoking marijuana on the job. Sua was convicted of causing/permitting a child to be exposed to a controlled substance and distributing a controlled substance—both felonies. [16] His sentence has not been verified. [17]

2016: According to as 2016 facility evaluation report by the California Department of Social Services (which sent California foster children to this facility), Normative Services used physical restraints “as punishment, for the convenience of staff and as a program substitution.” One worker improperly restrained a resident and broke the child’s arm. Another lost his temper and punched and kicked a youth. [18]

2016: A report stated that Sheridan County (Wyoming) Emergency Services received more than 55 calls from Normative Services. The facility also had 57 runaways during the same period. Lastly, it stated as well that various Normative Services employees have been in court for felony child abuse, third degree sexual abuse, and aggravated assault and battery outside their duties at the facility. [19]

In July 2017, police arrested Sequel TSI of Madison youth counselor Amanda Williams, 28, on charges that she engaged in sex with a 19-year-old resident. She was indicted in September 2018 for sex acts involving multiple students under the age of 19. She was convicted January 10, 2020 of Second Degree Sodomy involving a 13-year-old boy. [20]

October 31, 2017: Twenty-year-old Mahogany Chambers filed suit against Clarinda for negligence in having hired a convicted felon (Antonio Aranda, mentioned above) who groped and raped her when she was 17 and housed at Clarinda. Chambers had been sexually assaulted twice prior to her admission to Clarinda. The administration assured the girl’s mother that no men would be working in the girl’s dorm, only women. The case appears to have settled in April 2019. [21] 

January 2018: Thirty-eight-year-old Darius Jones, a staffer at Northern Illinois Academy, was charged with three counts of criminal sexual assault on a person younger than 18 and at least 13 years old, over whom he held a position of trust or authority. The child was a resident of the Academy. Jones pleaded guilty on February 22, 2019 and was sentenced to 10 years in prison. [22] 

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