by: Jenna Bourne, Action News Jax Updated:
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - A Jacksonville mental health facility is accused of abusing patients’ rights and defrauding insurers to make money.
Action News Jax spoke with BuzzFeed News, which conducted a yearlong investigation and interviewed nearly 300 current and former staff members, patients and government investigators.
Many of them accuse mental health facility chain Universal Health Services of prioritizing profits above patients’ well-being.
Patients across the country told BuzzFeed News that once the facilities’ doors locked behind them, they were locked in until their insurance money ran out.
“They had the door locked behind me and they were keeping me against my will,” Texas UHS patient Samantha Trimble told BuzzFeed News. “I kept saying. I’d like a second opinion. I’d like to leave. I mean, I called the police."
UHS has 15 mental health facilities in Florida, two of them in Jacksonville: River Point Behavioral Health and Wekiva Springs Center.
A former intake clinical evaluator at River Point told Action News Jax that it was standard practice.
“For profit,” said the former employee. “Everybody knew it and it was just something that everybody was partaking in.”
Action News Jax agreed not to reveal her identity because she fears retaliation.
The employee said she’s also been questioned by federal investigators.
She has since left the mental health industry.
Two dozen current and former UHS employees told BuzzFeed News they were pressured into exaggerating patients' symptoms to hold them against their will until their insurance payments ran out, so the facility could make as much money as possible.
The article identifies River Point Behavioral Health in Jacksonville as having a 10-day guideline for how long to keep patients -- the maximum allowed by Medicare without approval.
“I would recommend that they stay probably a few extra days longer than I normally would without that ‘push,’ so to speak,” the former River Point employee told Action News Jax.
Buzzfeed News’ analysis of court records shows that petitions for involuntary commitment increased more than 470 percent within four years of UHS' purchase of River Point.
According to BuzzFeed News, the number of Medicare patients who stayed for 10 days or more at River Point nearly doubled in the year that UHS bought the hospital.
A federal investigation report from 2014 showed that regulators found one patient still in River Point 10 days after her final discharge papers were signed.
The federal regulators also discovered that River Point was over capacity and saw mattresses without sheets or pillows on the floors of patient rooms.
“The extra mattresses on the floor, the whole department was not happy about it. They knew that they were overbooking and it just continued to go on and on,” the former River Point employee told Action News Jax.
A hospital official told investigators it was “better than throwing a blanket on the floor.”
“I think it just really raises a lot of questions about, you know, the quality of care in some of these psychiatric hospitals,” BuzzFeed News investigative reporter Rosalind Adams told Action News Jax.
Action News Jax’s Jenna Bourne stood outside River Point’s locked door for five minutes before director of nursing Nehemiah Nogalski and risk manager Shawna Waterford came out.
Nogalski said River Point CEO Kevin McGee was not available.
“At this time, no one is available,” said Nogalski. “I do believe that we have somebody en route.”
That was at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday. No representative from River Point or UHC has gotten back to Action News Jax.
BuzzFeed News reports that UHS disputes its investigation and “absolutely rejects” any claim that it held patients solely for financial gain.
About 20 UHS employees told BuzzFeed News that the company operates ethically and provides high-quality care.
© 2017 Cox Media Group.
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