Survive. Torn pieces of paper with the word Survive
Crumpled Torn White Paper



Lehi, UT

CLOSURE: Outback Therapeutic Expeditions


Nora Ashleigh Barrie | May 4, 2023

On Tuesday, May 2, 2023, Outback Therapeutic Expeditions, a wilderness program located in Lehi, UT, announced the upcoming closure of the program. Outback is owned by Aspen Education Group and associated with the National Association of Therapeutic Schools and Programs (NATSAP). Outback was originally founded in 2001 under the name Walkabout Therapeutic Expeditions. In 2004, Walkabout merged with a collection of other existing Troubled Teen Industry programs, Aspen Achievement Academy, New Leaf Academy of Oregon, Aspen Ranch, Bromley Brook School, SunHawk Academy, and NorthStar Center, and rebranded under the new name: Outback Therapeutic Expeditions. Aspen Achievement Academy and NorthStar Center were each responsible for the death of a child in their care.

Aaron Wright Bacon, 16, died on March 31, 1994, from the medical neglect of staff members employed by NorthStar, another Utah wilderness program. Aaron and the other children in his group were forced to hike strenuous trails in the days before his death. Over the course of these grueling hikes, Aaron developed abdominal ulcers that ruptured, resulting in severe peritonitis and ultimately, his death from septic shock. Notably, this is the same condition that killed Taylor Goodridge, 17, on December 20, 2022 at Diamond Ranch Academy, also located in Utah. Peritonitis is an easily treated illness. However, when neglected, it can often be fatal. In 1996, Craig Fisher, 23, was sentenced to one year in jail for felony child abuse. Eight others were charged with felony neglect and abuse of a disabled child. After accepting plea deals, five of those were given a period of probation, with the other three escaping punishment altogether.

Programs often merge and rebrand as an attempt to escape the scrutiny that comes when a child dies in the Troubled Teen Industry. With new names, the same program employees are allowed to maintain employment within the industry. This includes everyone from field staff to CEOs.

On Monday, May 1, 2023, employees of Outback Therapeutic Expeditions arrived at work to find that they no longer had jobs. The following day, Outback CEO Rick Meeves released a statement regarding the permanent closure of the program:

Hello Everyone,

There is truly no easy way to share this news and it is with a heavy heart that we come to you about our decision to no longer accept any students at outBACK Therapeutic Expeditions as of May 1, 2023. The last day of operation will be Thursday, June 15, 2023 and we will be working closely with referring professionals who currently have students with us, our current families, and the dedicated team members of outBACK to ensure that there are no disruptions to the continuum of care received throughout this time of transition.

As many of you know, Rick Meeves, along with a group of very talented partners, started this program back in 2001 and we have had the privilege of supporting thousands of families over the 20+ years of existence. During the lifetime of our program, McKay Deveraux has served in various roles and stepped into one of his poignant roles as the Executive Director in 2014. He has ridden an array of waves in his tenure at outBACK and has been able to weather many economic and social impacts that our field of practice has had to weather over the past decade. And, as you can imagine, the added layer of navigating through a pandemic combined with increased restrictive regulations, social climate, and ongoing economic stressors, have all led to a heart wrenching decision for McKay Deveraux; the decision to step away as the Executive Director of outBACK.

Had this decision been made outside of recent news of other program closures and rumblings of financial struggles for others, there may have been a chance to have pursued a search for another Executive Director. With that said, as many of you know, the heartbeat of this program and the ability to cultivate the type of growth mindset culture that has been thriving here have all stemmed with having McKay at the helm. In examining both external and internal impact of the news for the need of a new Executive Director, especially in the climate we currently find ourselves, the board has made the heavy and hard decision to close our doors after 20+ years of service.

There is never the "right time" to make such decisions and McKay's heart is still wrestling and grappling with the overall impact of his decision given the level of connection he holds with his team members, with all of you, and with our families who have been a part of our program. Many of you know the kind of person McKay is and know that this was one of the most difficult decisions he has ever had to make, especially given the "timing". With the decision to close our doors, we also want to take a moment to recognize Rick Meeves for having the vision for our program 22 years ago. Your continued support and belief in Rick's vision, along with Rick's dedication to helping change, save, heal, and touch the lives of families in need, have served as a longstanding pathway for all of us to have experienced the honor of walking through this amazing journey of bringing families back together. We know that you will have questions and/or hold a desire to reach out about what you read above. If you would like to connect, please feel free to contact the following marviauals.

Tracy Hopkins

Director of Engagement & Belonging

Rick Meeves