UPDATE: Lawyers for Sundance Behavioral Health Systems have filed a motion to quash the indictment against the hospital Friday.
On Thursday the Tarrant County District Attorney handed down a nine-count criminal indictment against the hospital saying the facility in Arlington held four patients “involuntarily and illegally,” “against their will” without obtaining a court order. The law firm of Varghese Summersett, which is representing Sundance released the following statement:
At a basic level, we have people without medical degrees ordering licensed mental health professionals to violate their Hippocratic Oath to do no harm and then criminally prosecuting them for delay in a patient’s release, even when the delay was a result of medical professionals acting in the best interest of the patient and the community.
Texas Health and Human Services regulates hospitals and has the power to sanction or even shut down mental health facilities for violations. They have investigated Sundance and are the only proper entity to regulate deficiencies.
The allegations, while shocking to those unfamiliar with behavioral health, are not unique to Sundance or mental health facilities and do not fall below the standard of care for mental health facilities. This move by our Criminal District Attorney should concern us all. Think about this criminal prosecution the next time you see an untreated mental health patient at a homeless shelter, on the street corner, or in your neighborhood — an occurrence which will now certainly increase with alarming regularity.
FORT WORTH (CBSDFW.COM) – The Tarrant County District Attorney’s office announced a criminal indictment against a North Texas hospital chain which has been a subject of an I-Team investigation for the last 5 years.
Sundance Behavioral Healthcare System was indicted by a Tarrant County Grand Jury on nine criminal counts stemming from violations of the Texas Mental Health Code.
The indictment states Sundance knowingly violated the Texas Mental Health Code by detaining patients for longer than the statutory maximum of 48 hours without obtaining the mandatory court order of protective custody that is required to hold a patient on an involuntary basis.
Court documents also filed with the indictment cite other problems at the Arlington facility. Some of the issues highlighted in the document relate to patients escaping the hospital, assaults and a rape. They reference Illegal injections of “chemical restraints” and a suicide the I-Team reported in September.
On Thursday the I-Team spoke to Darrell Leblanc who suffers from depression. He says he was admitted to Sundance Hospital in Garland on Saturday and did not get out even after he signed paperwork to be released against medical advice. “They still held me for another 24 hours,” he said.
It’s the same story the I-Team has heard from other former patients. CBS 11 I-Team undercover cameras have caught parents fighting to get their children out with lawyers by their sides. Patients have complained to the I-Team about neglect, abuse, assault and being held against their will.
Former employees have shown us pictures, they say, are of patients’ rooms which appear damaged and pictures of employees sleeping on the job.
Children have told the I-Team about threats with sedative injections typically referred to by the patients as bootie juice.
Some of these complaints are substantiated in inspections conducted by the federal and state agencies.
Fort Worth state representative Stephanie Klick, who has seen some of these same inspection reports, says she is very concerned about this hospital. “You look at all of these reports and it’s abusive and we should be protecting these folks and not allowing them to be abused,” she said.
The Tarrant County Criminal District Attorney Sharen Wilson said, “People turned to what they thought was a trusted medical facility and were not allowed to leave as the law requires. These offenses were a corporate failure, and the corporation must be held accountable.”
The Citizens Commission on Human Rights-Texas, an advocacy group for patients, sent CBS 11 the following statement:
“Given the sheer number of people who have complained about being held against their will in Texas psychiatric hospitals, it’s high time something was done about it. We thank the Tarrant County District Attorney’s office for taking the bull by the horns. It’s hard to imagine the horror of being held on a psychiatric unit, not knowing when you will be released; and with no access to justice.”
Attorneys for Sundance tell CBS 11, “This criminal prosecution is unprecedented on a local and national scale. It also ignores legislatively enacted blanket immunity which allows medical professionals discretion in treatment and ultimately in the good-faith decision to discharge. By effectively transforming technical, regulatory complaints into criminal cases, the prosecution disregards the overwhelming chilling effect this action will have upon hospitals and medical professionals. This investigation will be vigorously challenged and any perceived violation will be aggressively defended. Sundance is a longtime accredited mental health and psychiatric facility whose professionals good-faith actions were in the best interest of their patients.”
If convicted, the hospital chain will face an up to $3.3 million fine.