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Southstone closes, raising fears of what comes next

SoVaNow.com / October 07, 2021
Southstone Behavioral Healthcare Center LLC has let go most of its staff and is relocating its youth clientele to other facilities as the parent company, Acadia Healthcare, charts a new future for the western Halifax campus.

What that future is remains unspecified.

Staff members have been told Southstone may become a facility to help adolescents with special needs such as autism, or become an alcohol and recovery center for adults. While staff continued to work over the past month, they were assured by their supervisors they would still be able to maintain their employment with the new care center, said a number of Southstone employees who have been idled in recent days.

As of Sept. 30, the majority of the staff had been laid off — including medical staff, behavioral therapists and educators. One employee who asked to remain anonymous said the supervisor at Southstone was among those who were let go.

“It was as if they [corporate] had kept the supervisor to handle the termination of the employees,” the person said.

Efforts to reach officials with Acadia, a Tennessee-based behavioral health company with care sites in the U.S., Puerto Rico and Britain, were unsuccessful. The Virginia Department of Behavioral Health licensure department confirmed Southside Behavioral Healthcare Center LLC surrendered its license effective Oct. 1.

Two neighbors of Southstone in the Oak Level community, Glenn Bender and Rachel Barksdale, spoke Monday night at the meeting of the Halifax County Board of Supervisors to express their concerns over what may come next with Southstone.

Bender, who was dean of academics for The Carlbrook School, the forerunner institution at the western Halifax campus where Southstone is located, said he is concerned that Acadia will go from operating Southstone as a behavioral health care center for troubled youths to shifting to an even more intensive facility, such as for the treatment of persons dealing with substance abuse.

“I know my neighbors are concerned. I’m concerned. I’d like information and I don’t have information,” Bender said.

Barksdale said in its most recent guise, Southstone was a headache because troubled adolescents there frequently fled the campus and wandered out into the nearby community. A church property in the area had to be boarded up because youths kept getting inside and vandalizing the property.

Kids have also set fires at Southstone, forcing local firefighters to repeatedly go to the campus to respond, she said.

“Our local fire department can’t keep up,” said Barksdale. “Our law enforcement is there all the time. I don’t know how [Southstone] is helping our community.”

For those who worked there and have now been cut loose, different problems loom — mostly, how to adjust to the new unemployment.

“It’s sad and I feel for those who lost their jobs,” said Sandra Garner-Coleman, a retired school teacher and school board trustee who took a teaching job at Southstone in June. She had reached 90 days with the company when the pink slips went out.

“When they announced the change in care a month ago, I had a gut feeling it was not going to last,” said Coleman.

The handful of employees is working to clean the offices in preparation of the new facility. They have been told Southstone will re-open in six weeks or six months. Acadia officials have talked about plans to renovate three of the buildings, after youth clients at Southstone punched holes in walls and committed other acts of destruction.

“It is unbelievable the amount of the damage these kids did,” said one unnamed employee. Garner-Coleman confirmed the vandalization of property: “they [clients] never had any consequences for their behavior.”

Detrick Easley, Halifax County zoning director, said this week that he is working to schedule a meeting with Acadia officials to obtain information regarding the future use of the facility.

“I reached out to Acadia, I was able to speak to someone and made them aware of the county’s concerns,” said Easley.

The current conditional use permit for Southstone Behavioral Health Center cannot be used by Acadia to establish an treatment program for adults, unless the permit is amended, a process that requires the approval of the Board of Supervisors, Easley indicated.

(Editor's note: This article has been corrected from the original to convey comments by Rachel Barksdale at the Monday meeting of the Board of Supervisors. She told supervisors that youths at Southstone have set fires to mattresses and other property at the campus, not out in the community.)

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