Jacksonville mental health facilities dodge questions about fraud allegations

A dozen former patients and employees at Jacksonville mental health facilities have reached out to Action News Jax, wanting to share their stories since an investigation we aired Wednesday.

They want to talk about the accusations in a year-long BuzzFeed News investigation that psych hospitals owned by Universal Health Services hold patients against their will longer than medically necessary to milk their insurance payments.

The company owns two Jacksonville locations: River Point Behavioral Health and Wekiva Springs Center.
Those facilities continue to dodge questions from Action News Jax about the allegations.

Jacksonville mental health facility accused of fraud, abusing patients' rights

One former patient told Action News Jax she went to Wekiva Springs Center voluntarily in October, looking for relief from her depression. She said they Baker Acted her and didn’t give her any counseling.

“You sat around all day doing absolutely nothing,” she said.

She said the facility charged thousands to her insurance and held her past the 72 hours allowed by the Baker Act, but she’s no better off than when she walked in.

“I can say I’m actually worse. It was very traumatic,” she said.

In the meantime, JeriLynn Childress, who has attempted suicide 21 times, said she couldn't get help.
Childress doesn't have insurance.

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She said when her husband took her to the hospital in October with suicidal thoughts, not a single mental health facility in town would take her.

“I don’t think that it’s fair that people that don’t need it are there and people that honestly need it and need the help, they’re not. And they’re not taking them because of money,” said Childress.

In the BuzzFeed News investigation, former employees of Universal Health Services said they were pressured by management not to accept patients who didn’t have insurance.

Wednesday and Thursday, Action News Jax reporter Jenna Bourne tried to get answers from UHS’s Jacksonville facilities.

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Wekiva Springs Center Business Development Director Stella Bryskin asked Bourne to leave the property on Thurdsday. Bryskin later emailed the following statement:

"Wekiva Springs has been a proud member of the Jacksonville community for the last 12 years.  Our commitment to the community, clinical excellence, and patient centered care has been the cornerstone of our success.  As a Baker Act Receiving Facility, Wekiva Springs is in compliance with the applicable state statutes regarding admission and discharge.  Wekiva has a long history of providing individualized patient care in a safe setting, treating individuals with complex mental health needs.  All decisions related to admission, treatment and discharge of individuals at Wekiva are made by the clinical treatment team led by the physicians."

Bryskin declined to answer any of Bourne’s questions about the allegations.