By CCHR International
Mental Health Industry Watchdog
January 24, 2017
Staff and former staff of psychiatric facilities owned by Universal Health Services (UHS) could be the key to protecting patients against further abuse and potential billing fraud, according to the mental health watchdog, Citizens Commission on Human Rights (CCHR). CCHR is calling for more workers to speak out, especially to law enforcement agencies, in light of recent exposés by BuzzFeed News of federal agency investigations into the plagued psychiatric chain.
Current and former workers at the Pee Dee Behavioral Health facility in Florence, South Carolina are the latest to make allegations of abuse at UHS’ behavioral facilities. The Greenville News reported that workers alleged that “children at the facility have been hurt after altercations with staff, were given inadequate food and programming, and children there have been subjected to verbal abuse by staff.” Staph infections, scabies and mold (that can pose health risks) were also found at the facility.
South Carolina State Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) officials have cited the residential treatment facility for children with 19 violations including abuse and failing to adequately watch over children.
The December 7, 2016 BuzzFeed News exposé on UHS was based on interviews with 175 current and former UHS staff, including 18 executives who ran UHS hospitals. According to BuzzFeed, “Current and former employees from at least 10 UHS hospitals in nine states said they were under pressure to fill beds by almost any method—which sometimes meant exaggerating people’s symptoms or twisting their words to make them seem suicidal—and to hold them until their insurance payments ran out.”
UHS’ Hartgrove Hospital in Chicago has also been separately cited. According to The Chicago Tribune, the federal Justice Department began investigating UHS psychiatric facilities in Illinois in 2008 after the Tribune documented that juvenile state wards and other youths were sexually assaulted at Riveredge psychiatric hospital in Forest Park. In 2015, another UHS juvenile facility in Illinois, Rock River Academy, was closed following allegations of sexual abuse of residents. Rockford Police Department had fielded more than 700 reports concerning victimization of girls, including rape, aggravated battery and sodomy during a four-year period.
UHS’ National Deaf Academy (NDA) in Mt. Dora, Florida, closed in early 2016 in the wake of allegations of patients similarly complaining about abuse. Two former employees told CCHR and an NBC News investigation that they personally saw bruising, black eyes and chokeholds used on residents at the facility in 2012, but they felt pressure to cover it up.
On March 28, 2016, The Patriot Ledger reported that for the second time in a month, inspectors from the Massachusetts State Department of Mental Health made a surprise visit to check on UHS’ Pembroke Hospital. Since May 2015, “four other state and federal agencies have launched investigations into the hospital and flagged high numbers of worker injuries, possible billing fraud and failures around patient treatment and the administration of drugs at the hospital,” according to The Ledger.
Jan Eastgate, president of CCHR International, said that traditionally nurses and other employees or former employees have been key to abuses being reported and corrected in the mental health system. “We can put staff with the courage to speak out in touch with authorities who could assist them, or we encourage them to contact state attorneys general and FBI agencies in their state,” Eastgate stated.
Adrianna Bradley, a spokeswoman for DHEC in South Carolina said violations found at the Palmetto Pee Dee Behavioral remain under investigation and the facility must submit plans of correction for each of the violations. However, Eastgate said after filing more than 2,800 complaints against poor conditions or questionable psychotropic prescribing in UHS’ behavioral facilities, “It shouldn’t take more than one ‘plan of correction’ to ensure that patients are never again neglected to the point that they commit suicide or are restrained to the point of being harmed and even killed. It shouldn’t take more than one correction to ensure safeguards to prevent potential billing fraud.”
The group found eight psychiatrists affiliated with UHS behavioral facilities in South Carolina had total prescription billing costs under Medicare Part D that retailed at more than $3.8 million in 2013, with one psychiatrist accounting for $1,010,000 of this. At least six psychiatrists were among the top 25 state prescribers psychotropic drugs.
Those wishing to report abuse and fraud to CCHR International can call 1-800-869-2247 or 323-467-4242 or file a report online here.
About CCHR: CCHR is a 46 year mental health watchdog established by the Church of Scientology and Dr. Thomas Szasz, professor of psychiatry, to investigate and expose human rights abuses in the mental health system. It has been responsible for more than 180 laws that protect individuals against abuse.
 Tim Smith, “DHEC cites child treatment facility in Florence for violations,” The Greenville News, 18 Jan. 2017, http://www.thestate.com/news/state/south-carolina/article127374639.html.
 “Locked On The Psych Ward: Lock them in. Bill their insurer. Kick them out. How scores of employees and patients say America’s largest psychiatric chain turns patients into profits,” BuzzFeed News, 7 Dec. 2016, https://www.buzzfeed.com/rosalindadams/intake?utm_term=.ut3dvZ5NM#.rjNvL7qZQ
 “West Side’s Hartgrove Hospital focus of widening Justice Department probe,” The Chicago Tribune, Apr. 2015, http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-uhs-probe-hartgrove–20150401-story.html.
 Lorraine Bailey, “Severe Abuse Alleged at Illinois Home for Girls,” Courthouse News Service, 10 Sept. 2015, http://www.courthousenews.com/2015/09/10/severe-abuse-alleged-at-illinois-home-for-girls.htm.
 Aliza Nadi, “National Deaf Academy, Hit With Abuse Allegations, Is Closing,” NBC News, 15 Jan. 2016, http://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/national-deaf-academy-hit-abuse-allegations-closing-n497516.
 Chris Burrell, “State makes another surprise inspection of Pembroke Hospital,” The Patriot Ledger, 28 March 2016, http://www.patriotledger.com/article/20160328/NEWS/160326114.
 Op. cit., Tim Smith, The Greenville News.
By CCHR International