Maple Lake Academy (2005-present) Spanish Fork, UT

Residential Treatment Center

History and Background Information

Maple Lake Academy is a behavior-modification program that opened in July of 2005. It is marketed as a Residential Treatment Center for troubled teenagers aged 12-18. Maple Lake Academy states that students who enroll at the school must have a diagnosis/traits of a learning disability (Learning Disability (LD), Learning Disability-Not Otherwise Specified (LDNOS), Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified (PDDNOS), Nonverbal Learning Disorder (NLD), Asperger’s Disorder, or High Functioning Autism) in conjunction with emotional/behavioral issues (such as Depression, Anxiety, OCD, ODD, Social Phobia, Bipolar Disorder, etc). The average length of stay is reported to be between 18-24 months, and the program has a maximum enrollment of 30. The program’s tuition is reported to be over $10,000 per month.

Maple Lake Academy was originally opened as an all-girls program in 2005. The girls’ program is located on a farm at 6155 S 2400 W, Spanish Fork, UT 84660. The boys’ program, Maple Lake Academy for Boys, opened in 2011. MLA for Boys is located less than 2 miles away, at 6612 South 3200 West, Benjamin, UT 84660.

Maple Lake Academy has been a member of NATSAP since 2007. It was also “accredited” by the Northwest Association of Accredited Schools (NAAS), but it is important to note that neither the United States Department of Education nor the Council for Higher Education Accreditation recognizes the Northwest Association of Accredited Schools as an accrediting agency for institutions of higher education. In fact, NAAS is most well-known for in the public for the State of New York not accepting the diplomas given by the Academy at Ivy Ridge, which was a confirmedly abusive WWASP program which was also accredited by NAAS. NAAS has “accredited” many notoriously abusive behavior-modification programs, including many WWASP programs.

Founders and Notable Staff

Patti Hollenbeck-Dial is the Co-Founder of Maple Lake Academy. She currently works as the Admissions and Clinical Manager of MLA. She previously worked at an unnamed RTC.

Nichol Holwege is the Co-Founder and Program Manager of Maple Lake Academy. She previously worked at the same unnamed RTC as Patti.

Karen Nicki worked as a Psychologist at MLA. She previously worked at Outback Therapeutic Expeditions, a reportedly abusive Aspen Education Group program.

Deanne Shields worked as the Special Education Coordinator at MLA. She previously worked at the confirmedly abusive Provo Canyon School, which is widely regarded as the birthplace of the notorious WWASP organization.

Program Structure

Maple Lake Academy reports that it does not use a Level System. MLA states on their website that “a Level system can be very frustrating and detrimental to our students. At Maple Lake we have a fluid Light system that allows our students to develop new skill sets as they learn and grow and not be “punished” during the growth process.” However, survivors have reported that this “Light System” is identical in practice to the typical Level System used by many behavior-modification programs. The phases of MLA’s “Light System” are reported to be:

  • Red: When a reisdent arrives at MLA, they are put onto Red. On this phase, they are not allowed to participate in any ‘fun’ activities, and they must be within arms reach of staff at all times.
  • Yellow: On this phase, the residents are not allowed to participate in any ‘fun’ activities, and must remain within line of site of a staff member at all times.
  • Green: On this phase, the resident must also remain within line of site of a staff member at all times.
  • Partial Checkout: On this phase, the residents are allowed to leave line of site only when doing chores.
  • Full Checkout: On this phase, the resident can leave line of sight for any reason for 15 minutes at a time.
  • iLife: On this phase, the resident can leave line of site without checking with staff, and they also do not need to inform staff of their daily hygiene.
  • Dreams: On this phase, the resident can leave line of site, use electronics, leave campus for fun, spend money, work a job, has a later bedtime, etc.

Communication is highly monitored at Maple Lake Academy. It is reported that all incoming and outgoing mail is read censored by staff. In addition, it is entirely up to staff discretion who the teen is able to receive mail from, and mail is comonly withheld if it comes from someone not on the teen’s ‘approved’ mailing list.

Maple Lake Academy and Maple Lake Academy for Boys are both reported to be unaccepting of LGBTQ+ residents. Transgender residents are forbidden from using gender-affirming pronouns, are forced to use their deadname, and are placed into the program which corresponds with the gender they were assigned at birth.

Rules and Punishments

Maple Lake Academy is reported to be a very strict program with many rules. Some of the rules which have been reported by survivors include:

  • no talking in the med line
  • no talking about other programs
  • lots of forbidden topics of speech
  • must be transparent with staff (no secrets)

If a teenager breaks a rule at MLA, they are punished. Examples of punishments include communication blocks, solitary confinement, “therapeutic holds” (PCS), reduction in level, and reading blocks. They also may be punished with a “therapeutic intervention”. These punishments are reported to be extremely cruel. One such example of a therapeutic intervention is reported to be what is called “mattress status” in which a student is forced to remain on a mattress all day.

Abuse Allegations and Deaths

Maple Lake Academy has been reported by many survivors to be an abusive program. Instances of abuse and neglect which have been reported by survivors of MLA include excessive and violent restraints, verbal/emotional abuse, medical neglect, over-medication, extreme forced manual labor, food deprivation, and cruel punishments disguised as “therapeutic interventions”.

On January 16th 2022, a female resident at Maple Lake Academy died as a result of an unspecified medical issue. According to reports, the girl had been complaining of worsening symptoms to staff members for at least a week prior to her death. She was eventually taken to the doctor on January 15th after repeated requests from her parents. However, after the doctor’s visit, she began complaining that her symptoms were becoming even worse, but the staff did not return her to the doctor for medical care. She died early the next morning. Despite unsuccessful CPR attempts, she died after being taken to the hospital. Shortly thereafter, the Utah Department of Human Services, Office of Licensing, issued a Notice of Agency Action against Maple Lake Academy, placing its license on conditional status. Regualators also required that MLA stop accepting new students pending the result of the investigation.

Survivor/Parent Testimonials

January 2021: (SURVIVOR) “While there are worse programs, MLA is an unspeakably evil place where children are tortured in the ways by which they will suffer the most.” – Anonymous, (submitted directly to Wiki)

10/4/2020: (SURVIVOR) “Maple Lake Academy made me go two months with bronchitis without seeing a doctor or getting medication. There are a lot of shitty things these people have done to me but this is among the worst. I was throwing up from coughing so much and my throat hurt like crazy but all I got was cough drops until they ran out and didn’t get more. I was confined to my bed all day and could only eat soup with crackers for all meals including breakfast. It took two months to finally be allowed to see a doctor. Seriously, fuck those people.” – u/daphrodite (Reddit)

12/8/2019: (SURVIVOR) “My little brother attempted suicide at the boys school in 2015, and his therapist covered it up and threatened him not to talk about it. I went to the girls school, where i saw plenty of similarly unprofessional and uncaring behavior. The hands-on staff were a bunch of college students and the administration were distant and didn’t give half a cold shit about a single child living with them. Do not send your kid here unless you trust sheer luck to bring them back alive.” – Dex (Yelp)

11/11/2019: (SURVIVOR) “Maple lake academy is a therapeutic boarding school directed towards children 13-18 with autism/aspbergers. I have neither of those things. The therapist tried to teach me like she would an autistic child, and completely ignored my borderline personality disorder, which was and still is my main issue. Upon returning home I was checked into a psych hospital because my borderline got so bad, because at this center they do not work with people who have my disorder. Let me start on the staff, nice, yes. But they are not legally allowed to give you any advice. I would ask them and they would redirect me to my therapist, whom I saw two times a week. Some of my closest friends saw their therapists once a week at the most. They were always there, just sitting in their offices, typing on their laptops. The food at maple lake was horribly unhealthy. We ate all carbs and I gained like 10 pounds while I was there. I still don’t see how putting us on an unhealthy diet containing mostly frozen food was going to help us mentally. We would be given enormous portions and expected to eat most of it in order to throw the rest away. Almost every meal I was force feeding myself to the point where I was going to vomit before I was allowed to throw away my food. The girls are nice, but if your child is a lesbian, I would not recommend sending them to this school. One of my closest friends and a girl whom I despise to this day would hook up in the closet when the staff were busy. They eventually admitted it, also admitting to have seeing several of us pee while they were getting it on in the closet connecting to the bathroom. While I was there my roommate peed on the floor. I am not kidding. My room smelled horrible for 2 weeks before they did anything about it. The school also has a large stealing problem. Do not bring anything to the school you like. Makeup, shampoo, conditioner, any nice or expensive toothpaste, etc. there were times where I would buy a brand new conditioner and within one week it would be empty. There is no way I was using that much myself, so I wrote “go back to the litter box b***h” on my bottle. Within hours the girl who I assumed was stealing for me came crying to staff saying that I was writing hate notes to her. My conditioner was in my own drawer, nowhere that she could have seen it unless she was stealing from me. I was then punished for her trying to steal from me because of my plan to catch her stealing. The staff are truly lovely people, despite the fact they are incompetent college students, and they try to do what they can to make our day better, that is if they like you. Some of them would be flat out rude to the students because they did not like them. Overall, maple lake was one of the worst experiences of my life, and I try my best to forget it happened completely. 9 months of my life and my parents money completely wasted.” – Jess (Yelp)

8/9/2019: (SURVIVOR) “With no exaggeration, Maple Lake Academy has been the worst experience of my entire life. I had experienced trauma which led me to seeking treatment, but this definitely topped it all. For me, nothing has been worse than being trapped in this hell-hole, run by incompetent college students and abusive therapists. First of all, our lives were mostly controlled by college students who have zero qualifications. They openly say they are not even qualified to give us advice of any kind, but are allowed to physically restrain and verbally belittle students. I have been falsely punished multiple times by higher ranking staff for the sake of calming down another student. They are usually twenty to twenty-four years old. I was closer in age to them than some students. The arrangements for school were also very poor. Students from middle school through senior year are placed in the same class. There were only two classrooms, both extremely small with only six seats. Classes would sometimes go beyond six students, forcing students to sit on the floor. There was no PE teacher as it was taught by the staff. Their highest level of Math is only Secondary 3. I had to excessively study for the ACT and SAT because I had already learned everything they taught in Middle School. People who supposedly have the qualifications to be responsible are never there. The nurse is someone I particularly had a problem with. She was never around and it took my over three months of asking for me to purchase new contact lenses. She placed the blame on me for not “advocating”. I had asked multiple staff and followed up with them. The reason I couldn’t talk to her was because she literally was never there. One time I had bronchitis and was vomiting for TWO MONTHS, until they finally let me see a doctor. The food is extremely unhealthy. Every week, we would have microwave lasagna and Costco pizza. Most food would seriously be found in the frozen aisle. Several times, staff has forced me to eat bagels or yogurt even when it was expired. They would even claim it is perfectly fine to drink expired milk. I informed my mother about the food and she made a complaint. Staff and even my therapist blamed me for “complaining” when my mother was the one who simply asked me what we ate. On two occasions they forgot to feed me, and once, they flat out denied me breakfast and punished me when I ate an orange in response. The equine therapy aspect of Maple Lake is a total scam. My parents were told we were able to ride three times a week. We almost never were able to ride and only did so once a month if we were lucky. We were forced to sweep the barn instead. One “horses” lesson was waiting over an hour doing nothing for the vet to come for the last fifteen minutes of it. The therapists at Maple Lake Academy were extremely unfair, idiotic and abusive. Therapists who weren’t even my therapist would criticize me. They would punish me harshly because they believed I was “unsafe” as they feared I would physically act out. Meanwhile, girls who actually were physically violent and abusive, would have their punishments lessened to give the therapists a false sense of pride over the “improvement”. I am a capable young woman, but it was dehumanizing to be told by a therapist, who wasn’t even mine, that I would end up in the back of a car, dead. I had desperately tried to reach out to my parents, but my call would be instantly turned off if I ever said anything negative. My parents were heartbroken to find out what I went through when I visited home and told them, but were forced to send me back for the sake of finishing high school. I feel disgusted at the fact that this is a huge business, especially in Utah, where laws make it easier to run a treatment center there. I am extremely unhappy with my experience at Maple Lake Academy. Despite me being safe at home and currently attending college, the trauma still stands. Generally, I would not recommend treatment centers of any kind because there are many like this. If you are trying to be careful about where to send your child, I can guarantee you this is not the place – unless you want them to be miserable.” – Daphne (Yelp)

1/29/2019: (PARENT) “Our daughter did not have a good experience at MLA. While she is strong willed and can be difficult to deal with, MLA has a very one dimensional approach to dealing with the kids. Basically, the kids must do exactly what the staff tells them to do, exactly when they tell them. Our child questioned the rules and the rigidity (MLA calls this “structure”) and she paid a heavy price for it. Furthermore, she cycled through 4 or 5 therapists while in attendance. MLA could not seem to hold on to any of them. We wasted almost 2 years and $ 250,000. Now, she attends a different school, is achieving fantastic grades, and making wonderful progress on her social and cognitive growth. We are happy to see the back of MLA. By the way, they told us how much they “love” our daughter and they “love” us. But once they got rid of her, they never once inquired about her. Their insincerity says it all.” – James (Yelp)

4/17/2018: (SURVIVOR) “To protect my identity, I have chosen to use a pseudonym in posting this review. Today I turned 18 years old, so I thought I would write a review about a place that has indelibly changed my view on the mental health industry, but not in the capacity you might assume. I spent a little over a month at Maple Lake Academy, and it was the most traumatic, damaging, and harrowing experience. I can say with utmost conviction that Maple Lake Academy is replete with the most vile, ruthless, neglectful, abusive, and cruel staff. Tyrants, the staff spurred patient-authoritative figure dynamics that relied on fear mongering. Over the course of the time I spent here I was physically and emotionally violated, belittled, shamed, degraded and threatened: a painful and disempowering experience I would not wish upon my worst enemy. Maple Lake and their staff are a disgrace to the mental health industry. If there was anything particularly resounding that I took away from this ordeal, it is that the mental health industry capitalizes and monetizes on the misfortunes of the willing and trustful, exploiting families through manipulation and depravity. In the most prototype example of irony, my parents shelled out tens of thousands of dollars in exchange for the compromise of my emotional and physical safety. Please, and I urge you, do not send your child to this place. Please, and I urge you once more, do not entrust your child to these people. My parents and family had to learn this lesson after being taken advantage of and exploited in the most dishonorable and abhorrent fashion. I was apprehensive about writing this review, but did so solely in the hopes of saving someone else from undue trauma, and quite possibly, someone else’s life. And just to throw it out there, I am now safe at home, healthy, happy, and thriving.” – Elle (Yelp)

10/28/2017: (SURVIVOR) “I am a former student from Maple Lake Academy for Boys. Maple Lake will try to paint a picture for you, a picture saying that it will help a wide range of people. This is blatantly false. They have “certified” professionals working with your kids. Citing directly, the majority of people that make up the company, are NOT licensed for their position. Citation. It was an abusive environment. A staff who was promoted recently before I left, broke a students arm, and had no repercussions whatsoever. It also has no regard for religious practices, in fact, anybody there who was Mormon, (yes i’m not just talking about the staff) was free to go to church weekly, and practice how they wished. Me, who is a Jew, was not allowed to go to synagogue, even on the most religious holidays, and they even organized and event over Yom Kippur. Academically, they deprived you of actual academics. You had four classes, only two were meant to teach you stuff. There was never a full day of school and the classes didn’t even cover the information they needed. The grade system was skewed, and was graded based on compliance outside of school and emotional stability. My assignments were graded directly with high scores while I was struggling outside of school, but my overall grade was almost made me fail anyway. They do NOT let you speak out against the problems of MLA while you are there. You get twenty minute phone calls to your parents only once a week. Those phone calls are monitored by a staff in the same room, and if I tried to tell them anything negative about the place, you will be taken directly off the call. Eventually you can earn “unsupervised” calls which aren’t supervised because there was a staff always right outside the closed door listening in. They have student legal rights posted, but they do not let you exercise any of them. DO NOT SEND ANYONE HERE. You are not able to say how bad it is until you are out of there, or you will face repercussions.” – Nathan (Yelp)

2/2/2017: (SURVIVOR) “I have Aspergers and going on walks have always helped me. I was walking around with a staff member and they put me in a hold. I was raped when I was 12 and the guy held my wrists so whenever someone touches them I get spooked. The staff members grabbed my wrists which they clearly understood was traumatizing for me. Having Aspergers plus this, they knew I would freak out. They later told me they thought I was going to run which was not the case at all because I got permission to walk around WITH a staff member. I was dropped to red for a month. If you are looking to send your child here I would highly advise not to. After that month my parents pulled me because they lied to my parents saying I was doing really well which was not the case and told my parents I was lying that I was raped.” – Catherine (Yelp)

6/25/2016: (SURVIVOR) “My first review was deleted, so I’ll keep this one short. The staff are abusive when they’re not being neglectful, the food is incredibly unhealthy, you won’t know how your child is really doing, they keep more boys there than they are legally allowed to, they use the children there to work on senior staff members houses for free, and they have no protection. The 3 main words are: 1. Abuse 2. Neglect 3. Lies” – Gabriel (Yelp)

7/24/2014: (SURVIVOR) “I would not send your, son or daughter here. A lot of the staff are incompetent, college students. They, market themselves, as school/RTC(the best of both worlds. Neither is that great. There are two classrooms. They throw many of the same level together. Also the rules are arbitrary, and totalitarian. They also use fear tactics. Therapy, just enforced this bureaucracy of a school. They didn’t get to the root cause, they just kept people in line, with tight schedules, and rigid boundaries. Except for the RT teacher, there is not good therapy. If you’re looking for alternatives for the typical school I would look elsewhere. If your child, likes to follow their own interests, and has a tough time in a formal class setting, than I would recommend a Sudbury School. They can study their own thing, on their own time. They will also learn community. The highland is their one boarding. There’s also Montessori, which is more structure, but still some freedom. There’s Waldorf which is whole person approach. These are more common, and of course. I would also see what your child would be happiest at, and not get sucked into what professionals think is best. Not saying ignore it, but use your judgement. If you’re looking at MLA, you may want to look at Middle bridge School, or Franklin Academy. both highly structured, and good for NLD, and As. This may be biased Because I was misdiagnosed with this, but I found little wiggle room. I wanted to pursue what I’m interested in, and people to ask what I want, and help me find. This is still really good for some. They’ve got a lot of structure, but not like MLA, and don’t intimidate like MLA. Bard College, also has early college, or high school programs. Like starting college before graduating high school, earning a diploma, and more. This is just a little bit of info. I recommend research too. Just a few suggestions to see if anything sticks out. Lastly, not schools, but I would recommend looking at Irlen Syndrome. Common, especially in the ASD community, and often with AD/HD as well, It can also mirror it, It can also look like dyslexia or other disorders. But anyone can have it. Best part is easy fix. The right tinted glass, is all it takes. Most common symptom, doesn’t like bright, or fluorescent lighting. They also have overlays.I would also recommend Keirsey’s Temperaments specifically when it comes to parenting styles. These four groups can be so foreign to one another. This system can really help understand, people when you don’t see eye to eye. It also help parent/child conflict. Thanks for bearing with me. I fell through the cracks, but I hope I helped at least a little. P.S.. McClain Hospital is alright as lat resort, but run away from educational consultants, and make it short term, don’t let them get trapped in the system, but if they mental hospital, is the only option, ask for McClain, If you strongly appose fight it like you would any other case, with a good lawyer.” – Kayla (Yelp)

Related Media

Maple Lake Academy Website Homepage

HEAL Program Information – Maple Lake Academy

Utah regulators say a girl died after a youth treatment center didn’t give ‘necessary medical care’ (The Salt Lake Tribune, 2/14/2022)

Utah places Maple Lake Academy’s license on conditional status (KSL News Radio, 2/14/2022)