Cashing in on Troubled Teens

Cashing in on Troubled Teens

By The Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX

The first time Trina Edwards was locked in a psychiatric hospital for children, she was 12 years old. She was sure a foster parent would pick her up the next day. But instead, Trina would end up spending years cycling in and out of North Star Behavioral Health in Anchorage, Alaska. 

At times, she was ready to be discharged, but Alaska’s Office of Children’s Services couldn’t find anywhere else to put her – so Trina would stay locked in at North Star, where she would experience violent restraints and periods of seclusion. Then, shortly before her 15th birthday, Trina was sent to another facility 3,000 miles away: Copper Hills Youth Center in Utah. 

Both North Star and Copper Hills are owned by Universal Health Services, a publicly traded Fortune 500 company that is the nation’s largest psychiatric hospital chain. Trina’s experience is emblematic of a larger problem: a symbiotic relationship between failing child welfare agencies, which don’t have enough foster homes for all the kids in custody, and large for-profit companies like Universal Health Services, which have beds to fill. 

This hour, Mother Jones reporter Julia Lurie exposes how  Universal Health Services is profiting off foster kids who get admitted to its facilities, despite government and media investigations raising alarming allegations about patient care that the company denies. 

This is an update of an episode that originally aired in October 2023.

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