She says she went for help, but ended up ‘in jail ba­si­cally’

Star-Telegram (Sunday) - - Front Page - BY DEANNA BOYD [email protected]­gram.com

They say they went will­ingly to Sun­dance Hos­pi­tal in Ar­ling­ton seek­ing help.

But once inside the hos­pi­tal, they say, they were kept against their will.

Kayela Sali­nas, who has bipo­lar dis­or­der, says she had agreed to be hos­pi­tal­ized four years ago af­ter call­ing Burleson po­lice in the midst of a panic at­tack.

“I was told it was just go­ing to be a 48-hour calm-down sort of thing,” said Sali­nas, 30.

Les­lie Jasper­son, who also has bipo­lar dis­or­der, said she was up­set and not re­act­ing well to her med­i­ca­tion in 2012 when her psy­chol­o­gist rec­om­mended she check her­self into Sun­dance.

Taken to the hos­pi­tal by her fa­ther, Jasper­son, then 52, planned to stay 72 hours.

Sali­nas says her 48-hour stay stretched into nine days. Jasper­son says she was held 18 days.

“I was in jail ba­si­cally,” Jas- per­son said. “That’s why I’m afraid if some­thing hap­pens to go any­where else be­cause I’m afraid they’re go­ing to keep me in there. I was lucky to have my fa­ther to help me. What if I don’t have any­body?”

Last week, a Tar­rant County grand jury in­dicted Sun­dance Be­ha­vo­rial Health­care Sys­tem on nine crim­i­nal counts. The com­pany is ac­cused of vi­o­lat­ing the men­tal health code by il­le­gally hold­ing four pa­tients at its Ar­ling­ton’s hos­pi­tal.

The com­pany says the charges are un­founded and has ac­cused the District At­tor­ney’s Of­fice of over­step­ping its bounds.

Since the an­nounce­ment of the in­dict­ment, sev­eral peo­ple – in­clud­ing Sali­nas and Jasper­son – have reached out to the Star-

Tele­gram and lo­cal au­thor­i­ties with sim­i­lar com­plaints.

“We are learn­ing of many more pa­tients who are com­ing for­ward,” said Samantha Jor­dan, a spokes­woman for the Tar­rant County District At­tor­ney’s of­fice.

Sun­dance’s at­tor­neys de­clined to com­ment fur­ther this week.

Scott Fa­ciane has served as an at­tor­ney ad litem for 18 years, rep­re­sent­ing pa­tients in thou­sands of cases in­volv­ing pro­posed men­tal health com­mit­ments. He said prob­lems with Sun­dance’s com­mit­ments and fil­ings be­gan to sur­face about eight years ago.

“In my opin­ion, did they hold peo­ple longer than they should have and wait un­til the 11th hour to ac­tu­ally let them go? Yes,” Fa­ciane said. “Un­for­tu­nately, I do think it was for the in­sur­ance ben­e­fits.”

INFRINGED UPON RIGHTS

Ac­cord­ing to the in­dict­ment, Sun­dance is ac­cused of hold­ing two pa­tients longer than the statu­tory max­i­mum of 48 hours. To de­tain a pa­tient longer on an in­vol­un­tary ba­sis re­quires a court or­der of pro­tec­tive cus­tody.

The other two pa­tients were vol­un­tary pa­tients who, de­spite re­peat­edly ex­press­ing their de­sire to leave, were not al­lowed to be re­leased, the in­dict­ments al­lege.

Fa­ciane said Sun­dance has had a his­tory of fil­ing for or­ders of pro­tec­tive cus­tody – also known as men­tal health war­rants – for pa­tients who had come vol­un­tar­ily to the hos­pi­tal.

Though such or­ders are in­tended for pa­tients who pose a threat to them­selves or oth­ers, Fa­ciane said he be­lieves Sun­dance had a his­tory of fil­ing such or­ders “when it wasn’t war­ranted.”

“These fa­cil­i­ties and providers are put in a very dif­fi­cult po­si­tion when some­one presents vol­un­tar­ily,” he said. “If they re­lease them rel­a­tively quickly without fil­ing, and some­thing, God for­bid, does hap­pen on the back side af­ter they’re dis­charged, then there’s a cer­tain level of li­a­bil­ity that could be as­so­ci­ated with that. I do un­der­stand the physi­cian and fa­cil­ity’s hes­i­ta­tion in re­leas­ing peo­ple too early.”

But at the same time, Fa­ciane states, these pa­tients “have cer­tain rights that are pro­tected un­der the law.”

“I think those rights have been infringed upon and infringed upon quite of­ten,” he said.

Once an ap­pli­ca­tion for a court or­der for pro­tec­tive cus­tody is filed, the court must ap­point an at­tor­ney for the pa­tient, and the case is placed on the men­tal health docket.

“De­pend­ing on when you came in, you could stay the­o­ret­i­cally for 10 days without ac­cess to a hav­ing a court hear­ing,” Fa­ciane said.

When the pa­tient or fam­ily mem­bers would in­quire how long a pa­tient would be held, Fa­ciane said, the stock an­swer from Sun­dance or the treat­ment team was of­ten seven to 10 days – the same amount of time typ­i­cally cov­ered by in­sur­ance com­pa­nies for men­tal health treat­ment.

Fa­ciane said he would meet with pa­tients and ex­plain their rights.

“On the Sun­dance cases, we would set prob­a­bly 90 per­cent of them for trial,” Fa­ciane said. “Al­most ev­ery time, they would be dis­charged on the eve of trial.”

“I TRIED TO ES­CAPE”

Jasper­son said when her fa­ther dropped her off at Sun­dance, she knew right away it wasn’t the place for her.

“I wanted to leave im­me­di­ately be­cause they locked the door and they wouldn’t let me talk to my fa­ther,” Jasper­son said of her 2012 hos­pi­tal­iza­tion. “In fact, I tried to es­cape. I didn’t feel right, and they wouldn’t let me talk to my fa­ther who was out­side. It’s not what I ex­pected.”

She said she later reached out to Fa­ciane for help at the sug­ges­tion of an­other per­son.

“Af­ter that, the psy­chi­a­trist said, ‘You shouldn’t have done that. We would have gone ahead and let you out,’ ” Jasper­son said.

In­stead, she says, Sun­dance kept her longer. She said she was made to once again start the steps of a 10-day treat­ment pro­gram she had al­ready com­pleted.

“I never said I was go­ing to com­mit sui­cide. The only thing I said was I want to get out of here,” Jasper­son said. “Then I started to go through all the mo­tions, did what they wanted me to do, said what they wanted me to say, be­cause I wanted out.”

She said that on the day be­fore her civil com­mit­ment hear­ing was to be held, “they de­cided to re­lease me.”

Be­cause she did not have in­sur­ance, Jasper­son said her fa­ther was left to foot the bill.

“I know they wanted $18,000,” she said, adding she couldn’t re­call how much her fa­ther ac­tu­ally ended up pay­ing Sun­dance.

“MONEY BY ANY MEANS NEC­ES­SARY”

Sali­nas was on Med­i­caid at the time of her hos­pi­tal­iza­tion. She said an­other pa­tient told her the hos­pi­tal of­ten kept Med­i­caid pa­tients longer so they could bill more.

“She had told me be­cause Med­i­caid al­lowed so many days for men­tal health re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion, that they’re not go­ing to let you out be­fore they’re done with your billing time,” Sali­nas said.

Sali­nas said the or­deal was es­pe­cially hard for her be­cause she had a young daugh­ter at home.

Be­cause of the way the sit­u­a­tion es­ca­lated out of her con­trol, Sali­nas said she would never seek such help again.

“That was fright­en­ing to me – to be so out of con­trol and not be­ing able to leave when you want to leave,” she said.

Stephen Geist said that when he took his 8-yearold daugh­ter to the Ar­ling­ton hos­pi­tal in May af­ter an in­ci­dent at school, he thought it was just so she could talk to some­one.

But as Geist, who has a learn­ing dis­abil­ity, filled out a more than 20-page packet, he said he be­came con­cerned when he no- ticed some of the doc­u­ments seemed to be ref­er­enc­ing con­sent for a stay.

“The so­cial worker that was talk­ing to us at the time, I told her, ‘I thought we were com­ing in to just talk with some­one to­day? This is talk­ing about her stay­ing. That’s not what I want,’ ” Geist said. “The so­cial worker ba­si­cally lied to me. She said all these pa­pers mean is she had come in here, she’s been seen by us, and that’s all.”

But Geist said af­ter hand­ing over the packet, a Sun­dance ad­min­is­tra­tor came in and said the girl would have to stay as the doc­u­ments couldn’t be un­signed.

“I told them if the so­cial worker had not lied to my face, I would have torn this up and eaten up ev­ery lit­tle scrap of it be­fore I ever let my daugh­ter stay here,” he said.

He said his daugh­ter had to spend the night.

“I ba­si­cally had to tell her, ‘I messed up. I didn’t un­der­stand what was go­ing on here,’ ” Geist said. “She said, ‘It’s OK, Daddy. I’ll get through it.’ She was def­i­nitely scared. It was that mo­ment of, ‘I can’t be­lieve I just let my daugh­ter down.’ I spent that en­tire night cry­ing.”

He said he was able to get his daugh­ter re­leased the next day but that ex­pe­ri­ence left her trau­ma­tized.

“I think they’re there to make money by any means nec­es­sary,” Geist said.

A CHANGE

At­tor­neys for Sun­dance have ac­cused the District At­tor­ney’s Of­fice of over­step­ping its bounds by bring­ing crim­i­nal charges.

“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,” the law firm of Vargh­ese Sum­mer­sett said in a state­ment re­leased last week.

In a mo­tion seek­ing to quash the in­dict­ment, the at­tor­neys al­lege the charges were pur­sued by the District At­tor­ney’s Of­fice to crip­ple the cor- po­ra­tion and force the men­tal health hos­pi­tal to buckle at the ne­go­ti­at­ing ta­ble and sell.

The mo­tion al­leges that the District At­tor­ney’s Of­fice re­fused to sup­port or spon­sor Sun­dance hos­pi­tal­iza­tions dur­ing its in­ves­ti­ga­tions, which meant that pro­bate courts were un­able to process ap­pli­ca­tions for or­ders of pro­tec­tive cus­tody.

Without those or­ders for pro­tec­tive cus­tody, Sun­dance was legally pre­vented from pro­vid­ing over­flow treat­ment for men­tally ill peo­ple who were in­vol­un­tar­ily com­mit­ted, cur­tail­ing a sig­nif­i­cant part of the hos­pi­tal’s busi­ness, ac­cord­ing to Sun­dance at­tor­neys

Jor­dan, the spokes­woman for the Tar­rant County District At­tor­ney’s of­fice, said it was what was un­cov­ered in the in­vesti- gation that ne­ces­si­tated the change.

“When we learned the ex­tent of the malfea­sance at Sun­dance, we knew we could no longer present or­ders of pro­tec­tive cus­tody to the pro­bate courts on their be­half,” Jor­dan said. “How­ever, the law clearly al­lows Sun­dance and other sim­i­larly li­censed fa­cil­i­ties to sub­mit or­ders of pro­tec­tive cus­tody to the pro­bate courts on their own be­half, without the Crim­i­nal District At­tor­ney’s Of­fice.”

The District At­tor­ney’s Of­fice is ask­ing those want­ing to report al­leged mis­treat­ment by Sun­dance to call 817-884-1661.

IN MY OPIN­ION, DID THEY HOLD PEO­PLE LONGER THAN THEY SHOULD HAVE AND WAIT UN­TIL THE 11TH HOUR TO AC­TU­ALLY LET THEM GO? YES. UN­FOR­TU­NATELY, I DO THINK IT WAS FOR THE IN­SUR­ANCE BEN­E­FITS. Scott Fa­ciane STEPHEN GEIST SAID THAT WHEN HE TOOK HIS 8-YEAR-OLD DAUGH­TER TO THE AR­LING­TON HOS­PI­TAL AF­TER AN IN­CI­DENT AT SCHOOL, HE THOUGHT IT WAS JUST SO SHE COULD TALK TO SOME­ONE.

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