Systematic Abuse in Florida UHS Facilities Brought To Light By Investigation

by | Jan 23, 2017



Are UHS Psychiatric Facilities in Florida Motivated by Profit?
In a word, yes.
Universal Health Services (UHS), is a corporation that owns over 200 psychiatric facilities in the USA and it’s under investigation by various federal and state authorities for its careless and fraudulent care that has damaged patients and violated their human rights.
Florida UHS hospitals are no exception when it comes to UHS crimes.
Following the release of a yearlong investigative study by a team of reporters from BuzzFeed News,[1] a dozen former patients and employees from Jacksonville’s two UHS psychiatric hospitals contacted Action News in Jacksonville to tell their experiences.
UHS Wekiva Springs Center in Jacksonville, FL – Case #1
One patient explained she had voluntarily gone to Wekiva Springs Center in October hoping to find relief from her depression.
She was Baker Acted into the facility and held past the 72 hour limit while her insurance company was charged thousands of dollars. She received no counseling about her feelings of depression.
She told reporters “You sat around all day doing absolutely nothing.  I can say I’m actually worse. It was very traumatic.” [2]
Wekiva Springs Center Business Development Director Stella Bryskin refused to speak with Action News reporter Jenna Bourne about the allegations and directed her to leave the property.
In another case involving Wekiva Springs, CCHR Florida (a non-profit, non-political, non-religious mental health watchdog organization dedicated to investigating and exposing psychiatric human rights violations) filed a complaint with the Agency for Health Care Administration in Tallahassee.
The patient contacted CCHR Florida about her upsetting experience at this facility. The patient voluntarily admitted herself for detox from marijuana but never received that treatment.
Instead she suffered through a series of incorrect and harmful actions.
She has epilepsy which is controlled by her anti-convulsion medication taken in a precise schedule set by her physician. The hospital altered her medicine schedule – within a day she began to have repetitive vomiting episodes and then a grand mal seizure ending up in the emergency room at St. Vincent’s Hospital.
After 24 hours she was sent back to Wekiva Springs. Staff refused or ignored her request to see her primary care physician. In two days she was back in St. Vincent’s following 2 more seizures.  Again the hospital sent her back to Wekiva Springs.
The patient wanted to leave the facility in order to see her primary care physician.  But getting out was not that easy.
The attending psychiatrist refused to sign her release papers and instead Baker Acted the woman to keep her there. This was in violation of current state law as she had arrived there voluntarily and because at no time did she meet the criteria to invoke the Baker Act.
She never exhibited any of the criteria for the Baker Act during her entire time at Wekiva Springs and she felt the Backer Act was done just to ensure the facility could get insurance money for her stay.
UHS River Point Behavioral Health in Jacksonville, FL
Per federal regulations, psychiatric facilities maintain seclusion rooms to contain patients who are dangerous; these rooms are needed to protect staff and patients. But at UHS when the regular beds get full no paying customer is turned away and the seclusion rooms are used. In 2014 federal regulators found that River Point hospital had more patients than they had beds. The regulators discovered vinyl mattresses hidden away in closets and on the floors in patient rooms. The hospital official in charge of Infection Control told the investigators that the mattresses were “better than throwing a blanket on the floor.” [3]
Gayle Eckerd was the hospital’s top executive and ran River Point until 2014. She kept close watch on how long each patient stayed in the facility and posted these statistics on a board in the conference room during staff meetings. Ten days was the goal. Ten is also the number of days that Medicare pays a hospital the full daily rate for a patient without requiring the hospital to get prior approval.
When Eckerd took over in early 2009 only 37% of Medicare patients stayed for 10 days or more. A year later that statistic was over 70% and it kept rising until her death in 2014. Now federal investigators are exploring whether River Point achieved those numbers in part by abusing the courts to hold patients against their will.
“In 2009, the year before UHS bought the hospital, it filed 238 petitions for involuntary commitment. Four years later, that number had grown to 1,362 — an increase of more than 470%.” [4] according to BuzzFeed’s investigative report.
Michael Pruitt is a good example of River Point’s so-called ‘care’.
Michael was feeling hopeless and he called a veteran help line in March of 2014. Police brought him to River Point under the Baker Act.
The hospital said that Pruitt had told the Veterans Administration he was having thoughts about killing himself, however the River Point records show that Pruitt repeatedly said he was not suicidal. The hospital refused to release him after 3 days in violation of the Baker Act law and instead filed a petition in court to hold him longer – despite not meeting the criteria.
A former River Point therapist told BuzzFeed “The rule of thumb is: If you came in under a Baker Act, we’re going to file a petition, and then we figure out what the days situation is with the insurance company. If they didn’t have insurance they were discharged.” [5]
In Pruitt’s case his doctor could not explain to the federal regulators why Pruitt needed to be involuntarily hospitalized. “Probably a mood disorder. I’ve only known him a short time…maybe bipolar affective disorder.” [6]
The doctor could only say that Pruitt seemed “angry, irritable and mildly hostile” – not too unreasonable for someone being held against his will in a psychiatric hospital.
The investigators reported the doctor had failed to properly diagnose Pruitt for release and in April of 2014 a larger investigation led to a suspension of Medicare payments to River Point.
UHS Suncoast Behavioral Health in Bradenton, Florida
In Kevin Burn’s case he was refused treatment due to this hospital’s policies on taking only patients with insurance that would pay for the treatment.
Three former Suncoast employees reported that admissions decisions were made this way:
“If the person has insurance, why haven’t they been admitted? If they don’t have insurance, why are they still here?… If they all didn’t have a payer — an insurance plan —the next day you’d get a call from your corporate regional person: ‘Why are you admitting ‘self-pay’ payers?’ If someone is self-pay it’s well known that’s a no-pay.”[7]
Burns had been discharged earlier from Suncoast but 2 days later he felt an urge to harm himself. He walked back to Suncoast where they barred the door, refused to let him in for a free analysis and called the police. Burns went to nearby Walmart, bought razors and made cuts on his wrists.
“I was begging for help, and that was the first logical thing I could think of to do,” Burns told BuzzFeed News.[8]
In the end, Suncoast admitted it had violated state law by not accepting Burns and was fined $1,000.
At the UHS Florida hospitals between 2013 and 2015, 55% of self-paying patients were discharged within three days, compared with just 30% of patients with commercial insurance. [9]
UHS Atlantic Shores Hospital in Ft. Lauderdale, FL
Another abuse case filed with the Agency for Health Care Administration in Tallahassee by CCHR Florida in January of 2016 was regarding a woman who had been held for 8 days against her will at Atlantic Shores Hospital. The allegations were:

  • Violations of her civil rights by illegal involuntary commitment with no legal due process per the Baker Act laws
  • Denial of writ of habeas corpus (A writ of habeas corpus is used to bring a prisoner or other detainee such as an institutionalized mental patient before the court to determine if the person’s imprisonment or detention is lawful.)
  • Falsification of medical records
  • Improper and below industry standard treatment with regards to informed consent and administration of psychotropic medications
  • Violations of patient rights under the Baker Act laws.

The woman was essentially a victim of false imprisonment. On April 8th a police officer came to her door telling her he had a Court ordered ex parte order [A circuit or county court may enter an ex parte order stating that a person appears to meet the criteria for involuntary examination and specifying the findings on which that conclusion is based. The ex parte order for involuntary examination must be based on written or oral sworn testimony that includes specific facts that support the findings.]
She asked to see this court order and it was not shown to her. She and a guest were dressed in bathing suits on the way to the pool and she was not allowed to change clothes but was taken in handcuffs directly to Atlantic Shores Hospital.
The CCHR Florida abuse report shows she was forcibly and physically held (restrained) the first day at Atlantic Shores by two large men who pinned her to the bed and gave her Haldol injections when she specifically had requested NOT to receive that medication.
The records indicate she was given this for “agitation” yet the patient says the staff actually woke her up to inject her with the Haldol as she was sleeping. There is no mention of this physical restraint in the records.  No evidence of signed orders for this restraint. No records of the specific behavior prompting this restraint or any signed express and informed consent in the record.
For 7 days she kept asking daily for a writ of habeas corpus and was ignored. Finally she managed to contact a personal friend at the ACLU who got her a court date. The day after the hospital learned of this scheduled court date, they released the patient.
Along with these and other violations, the patient reported that many false statements were written by the hospital staff and placed into her file.
The hospital reports said she had not been taking her medication (Wellbutrin and Valium) which she had. They also said she had been “belligerent and aggressive with residents and staff at her Assisted Living Facility (ALF)” whereas the patient has never lived in an ALF and lives in her own private condo that she owns.
Another false statement said she had financial issues and was unemployed whereas she lives on her retirement money having worked as a professional in the community for 30 years.
Members of Congress who are looking into UHS violations need the support of the citizens of Florida.
If UHS’s psychiatric facilities are unable or unwilling fix their many violations, it’s time to close them down.
[5] Ibid
[6] Ibid
[7] Ibid
[8] Ibid
[9] Ibid


Leave a Reply


Contact CCHR Florida

109 N. Fort Harrison Ave.
Clearwater, Florida 33755
Tel: 1-800-782-2878