An Action News Jax Investigation has uncovered that the Florida Department of Children and Families has known for years that a Jacksonville mental institution failed to file court documents meant to protect patients’ rights.
DCF has investigated River Point Behavioral Health seven times since 2011.
The facility has never faced penalties as a result of those investigations.
Buried in DCF’s 377 pages of investigation documents, Action News Jax found that the agency confirmed multiple times that River Point had kept some patients against their will longer than the 72 hours allowed by Florida’s Baker Act, but failed to file the legally required court petitions to keep them that long.
Those petitions require a hearing within five days -- crucial checks and balances to prevent people from being unnecessarily locked in a mental institution.
“That’s the mechanism to make sure they’re either released or they go get the treatment that they need,” Assistant State Attorney for mental health cases Jeff Davenport said.
Despite repeated complaints, DCF reported it found no evidence of a systemic issue with River Point’s Baker Act processes.
River Point has not been penalized as a result of any DCF investigation.
Over the past two months, Action News Jax has heard from dozens of former patients who say River Point held them against their will in order to collect thousands in insurance payments.
“When you put profit over patient care, somebody in some office somewhere forgets that there’s lives that hang in the balance,” said Steve Smith, who was involuntarily committed to River Point for nine days, despite denying he was suicidal.
River Point billed Smith’s insurance for about $10,000.
When Action News Jax originally confronted DCF’s local spokesman John Harrell, he denied that our findings existed. Harrell declined our request for an on camera interview when we sent him specific page numbers and quotes proving those findings.
When Action News Jax reporter Jenna Bourne showed up to the DCF office in person, Harrell would not come out of his office to talk to her.
A written statement from Harrell said, in part:
“The Florida Department of Children and Families has thoroughly investigated every report that we have received regarding allegations of patients not being notified of their Baker Act status as well as court documents not being filed within 72 hours. The River Point facility receives roughly 1,300 Baker Act patients a year.….With each case where we determined that changes needed to be made, we directed River Point to make those changes. DCF will continue to monitor the facility to ensure patients receive high quality care in compliance with applicable rules and laws and, if the deficiencies are not corrected in a timely manner, DCF will take corrective action, up to and including revocation of Baker Act designation. We encourage anyone with concerns regarding a Baker Act receiving facility to contact DCF with their concerns immediately…”
A federal investigation into River Point, its sister facility Wekiva Springs Center and its parent company Universal Health Services has been going on for years.
A source close to the investigation calls it “the never ending story.”
© 2019 Cox Media Group.