Insiders: America's largest chain of psych hospitals kidnaps people seeking care, drugs and holds them until they're out of insurance

Universal Health Services (UHS) is the largest chain of psychiatric facilities in the USA, with 2.5x more beds than its closest competitor, and dozens of whistleblowers from inside the company told a Buzzfeed reporter that they were pressured to find pretenses to lock up people who voluntarily presented for assessments, holding them against their will until their insurance ran out, with massive bonuses for executives who increased profits (and much smaller bonuses for execs who improved health outcomes for patients).

UHS hospitals are incredibly profitable, running at 30-50% margins, and whistleblowers say these margins are attained by dropping staffing to unsafe levels and preferentially hiring underqualified and inexperienced people; while simultaneously packing in patients by bedding them in closets, in isolation cells, and on mattresses on the floors of day-rooms.

Meanwhile, the whistleblowers say that patients in desperate need of care are refused admission, or are kicked out early, if they don't have insurance. A large plurality of UHS's patents are covered by tax-funded Medicare, and 10% of the company's hospitals are currently under investigation for Medicare fraud. Patients say that their confinement has eaten into the days of mental health care they are entitled to under Medicare, meaning that if they end up in distress later that they will not be able to get care.

The core tactic the whistleblowers describe is to manufacture "suicidal ideation" in prospective patients, turning any statement about self-harm into an imminent danger warranting involuntary confinement and sedation.

UHS denies everything.

Meanwhile, pressure to admit more patients was so great, staff members said, they did so even if the hospital was already at capacity, thinning resources even further.

“If we didn’t have beds, it doesn’t matter — just go ahead admit them anyway,” Rebecca Palmer recalled being told by her supervisors when she worked at The Ridge in Kentucky.

There would be “every bed filled on the kid unit, teenagers boarding on the child’s unit, and kids sleeping in the dayroom on rubber mats,” Palmer told BuzzFeed News. “And also in the seclusion rooms — they would be sleeping in there as well.”

Seclusion rooms are meant to contain patients who have become dangerous. According to federal regulations, the rooms are necessary to protect staff and other patients. Yet staff at four other UHS facilities told BuzzFeed News that there, too, the rooms were repurposed when the hospitals ran out of regular beds.

Federal inspectors noted in 2014 that River Point hospital in Jacksonville, Florida, had more patients than beds. They discovered vinyl mattresses tucked in a closet and on the floors of some patient rooms. A hospital official told regulators the arrangement was “better than throwing a blanket on the floor.”

Intake [Rosalind Adams/Buzzfeed]

Notable Replies

  1. miasm says:

    Oh finally. A feel-good story.

  2. See? The Free Market™ can take care of vulnerable populations just fine.

  3. JonS says:

    Well, d'uh. If they didn't want to get kidnapped then fleeced, they should've been more rugged-individualist-y and not have gotten sick. John Galt wouldn't get sick.

  4. Deregulatory ideology and promotion of private industry over public health leads to human rights abuses? Yes.

    Yes, Republicans also fuck the VA at every given chance.

  5. I spent ten years as a geriatric psych nurse in locked units. None of this is shocking. Once you're in, you are in. I worked at a dozen facilities in that time, and chemical restraints, bad patient care, medication theft, you name it. The entire industry has very little oversight except for our once a year audit, and that was a joke.

    My last job was at a facility that is still running in WA state. One patient's percocets were stolen, and replaced with a similar looking sleep med. Like, they literally peeled back the bubble pack, and scotch taped the new med it. It almost killed the patient. The med admin said she refused to investigate, because she was the queen of the castle there. (Direct quote) and later I found out from the accountant she routinely pocketed cash from the patients. We had state called on us every other week, and the coverups were massive. I had a patient die, due to a mismanaged broken hip with a fall that had been ignored for 48 hours. I was asked to re-write charts for days back, and when I refused, she started dogging my every step.

    I quite, and handed proof to state, but nothing happened. You know why? The oversight agencies are understaffed and incompetent. One investigator told me we were getting better, but it was because the admin was getting better at covering up.

    These locked psych units are run under boarding home licenses at best in my state. Anyone can open one up, and run them. They used to be Alzheimer's homes, but now they put anyone with a psych disorder in there. Dangerous for the elderly alzheimer's patients, and not the care the actual psychic patient need.

    I could wax on angrily about this for days. It's why I left the profession.

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