North Texas hospital corporation accused of holding patients illegally is indicted

A screen shot from the corporation’s website of the Sundance Hospital in Arlington.
A screen shot from the corporation’s website of the Sundance Hospital in Arlington.

A corporation that runs behavioral health hospitals in North Texas has been indicted on nine criminal counts of violating the Texas Mental Health Code, accused of holding four patients involuntarily and illegally at its Arlington facility.

SAS Healthcare Inc., more commonly known as Sundance Behavioral Healthcare System, is accused of knowingly violating the Texas Mental Health Code by detaining 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 indictment, handed down Wednesday, also accuses the corporation of refusing to allow two voluntary patients to leave the facility even though they’d repeatedly informed the hospital of their desire to leave.

”People turned to what they thought was a trusted medical facility and were not allowed to leave as the law requires,” said Criminal District Attorney Sharen Wilson in a statement Thursday. “These offenses were a corporate failure, and the corporation must be held accountable.”

On Thursday, prosecutors filed a notice of their intent to introduce extraneous offenses that included a slew of other alleged wrongdoing by the corporation and its “agents” or employees. The offenses ranged from not conducting welfare checks, then lying about it, in regards to a patient who committed suicide in its Arlington hospital last month to not timely reporting — or reporting at all — sexual assaults and assaults to the proper authorities, according to the notice.

If found guilty of the mental health code violations, the corporation faces up to a $100,000 fine for each of the 33 days that the offenses were alleged to have been committed — or a total of $3.3 million.

A message left Thursday by the Star-Telegram for SAS Healthcare executives was not immediately returned.

The law firm of Varghese Summersett, which is representing Sundance Behavioral Healthcare System, released this statement Thursday afternoon:

“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.”

Sundance Behavioral Healthcare System offers inpatient and outpatient treatment for children and adults. It specializes in the treatment of mental health, chemical dependency, and detoxification, according to its website.

Its locations include Sundance Hospital at 7000 U.S. 287 Frontage Road in Arlington, Sundance Center of Fort Worth at 2707 Airport Freeway, and Sundance Hospital Dallas at 2696 W. Walnut St. in Garland.

The court documents filed Thursday afternoon by prosecutor Matt Smid included that the corporation or its “agents”:

Failed to conduct welfare checks every 15 minutes on a patient with suicidal ideations who was found to have committed suicide inside his room on Sept. 15. The documents state that though an employee had entered into the patient’s medical records that he’d conducted a welfare check, “video evidence from the facility reflects this was a false entry.” It states the patient had not been checked on for 92 minutes prior to being found dead.

Refused to allow a patient who had come to the hospital voluntarily to leave, then injecting her with Haldol, Ativan and Benadryl when she tried to escape.

Delayed in reporting to Arlington police that a juvenile patient had reportedly been kicked by an employee because the corporation was conducting its own “internal investigation.”

Took more than an hour to provide Arlington police a description of several patients who had escaped from the hospital in Dec. 2016. Injecting a patient with “chemical restraints” (medications Ativan and Haldol), deemed illegal and unwarranted by The Texas Department of State Health Services.

Failed to notify Arlington police after a patient was caught touching another patient while masturbating until the next day, after the patient had sexually assaulted another patient.

Told a juvenile patient who reported being sexually assaulted by another patient to go back to sleep, then didn’t report the alleged sexual assault to Arlington police in a timely manner.

Refused to call police despite a request by a patient who’d suffered a fractured hip during an assault by another patient and waiting three hours to call an ambulance for the man.

Waited 12 hours to call emergency medical services after an assault on a patient and employee by another patient, then lying to EMS workers and claiming the injuries were the result of an “accidental fall.”

Failed to notify guardians that patients had been discharged from the facility, failed to report assaults to the Texas Department of State Health Services and convinced patients to sign consent for treatment forms when they’d been deemed mentally unable to do so.

Contacted Arlington police more than 40 times between Jan. 1, 2016, and Sept. 1, 2018, to try to obtain “Notification of Emergency” detentions on patients, some whose original emergency detentions had already expired. Arlington officers who responded to these calls did not feel there was enough evidence for such detainment. The document also states that in May of 2018, the Arlington Police Department decided to no longer consider the hospital an “appropriate mental health facility” for the purposes of the mental health code and stopped writing such emergency detentions.

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