MDHHS bans face-down restraints in wake of Cornelius Fredericks death

MDHHS official says Fredericks death ‘a nightmare for his family, tragedy from which none of us can look away’
Posted at 8:19 AM, Jul 17, 2020

Weeks after Cornelius Fredericks died after being restrained at Lakeside Academy where he was living, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services suspended the facility’s license and terminated their contract.

Thursday, MDHHS banned face-down restraints at all of their facilities in the state.

“The type of dangerous restraint that we have specifically prohibited in this emergency rule is the use of prone or what others would call face-down restraints as well as any restraint that restricts the breathing of the young person,” said MDHHS Children’s Services Agency Executive Director JooYuen Chang during a virtual meeting Thursday morning. “That was the incident that we had with Cornelius at Lakeside.”

According to Kalamazoo Public Safety and the Kalamazoo County Prosecutors Office, Cornelius Fredericks was restrained at Lakeside on April 29 by staff members sitting on his chest. Police said that when they arrived they found him in cardiac arrest. Two days later he died at Bronson hospital.

“Cornelius Fredericks death at Lakeside Academy is a nightmare for his family and a tragedy from which none of us can look away,” said MDHHS director Robert Gordon. “At MDHHS we will not rest until we have done everything in our power so that no other child suffers the same way.”

Wednesday, MDHHS held a virtual meeting for local and national media outlets and explained their decision to ban face-down restraints and announce further changes.

“We have required in this emergency rule new incident reporting requirements,” Chang said. “They have to notify the young person’s family within 12 hours and they have to notify the department within 24 hours. We will be collecting that information and using it to ensure that all kids are safe in all facilities.”

The MDHHS acknowledged that they’ve already had safety guidelines in place at Lakeside and when staff members violated the rules, the state visited the facility and implemented a ‘corrective plan’. In some cases, staff members were fired.

However MDHHS admitted to ‘missing some of the early warning signs.’

“We recognized immediately after Cornelius’ death that we had to ensure that every other child and every other facility was safe,” Chang said. “We actually went back and did a review of every single facility to see if they had even one serious incident in the past two years or any repeat incident related to safety. We looked at every one of those facilities against that marker. We identified 76 facilities that fell within that risk corridor and we did intensive case reviews.”

Chang emphasized that ideally child welfare facilities like Lakeside should be used as temporary residential places intended to meet a youth’s therapeutic needs.

She said using the facilities in any other way creates risk.

“We have to both train our staff on the specific interventions that kids need,” she said. “We need to train them about trauma and how to de-escalate using alternative methods.”

Lakeside said in a previous interview with FOX 17 that all the students have either returned to their home states or to other facilities.

In June, Cornelius Frederick’s family filed a lawsuit against Lakeside and its parent company Sequel Youth Services.

In July, three former staff members were charged with manslaughter and child abuse at the Kalamazoo County Courthouse. They're expected to return to court next week.

In the meantime, MDHHS vowed to implements the changes immediately and train more staff on prevention techniques.

“We are moving toward the goal of ending the use of restraints in institutional settings,” Gordon said. “Restraints are too often used as an easy way to control youth in place of the harder but necessary work of evidence-based practices that help young people address mental health challenges and heal and overcome trauma.”