A grand jury has indicted Sundance Behavioral Healthcare System on 11 additional counts of violating the Texas Mental Health Code for allegedly holding patients involuntarily and illegally at its Arlington hospital.
The charges involve seven new people, according to a news release Friday by the Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office.
Sundance, also known as SAS Healthcare Inc., was indicted last month on nine criminal counts of violating the Texas Mental Health Code in connection with four other patients at its Arlington facility.
The corporation is accused of refusing to allow voluntary patients to leave the facility and detaining others longer than the statutory maximum of 48 hours without obtaining a required court order of protective custody.
Two of the new counts involve an 8-year-old girl whose father, Stephen Geist, shared his story with the Star-Telegram last month.
The Arlington hospital is accused of admitting the girl against Geist’s wishes and then failing to discharge her within 24 hours despite a request from Geist. One of the counts also alleges that the hospital failed to determine the girl met the criteria for court-ordered mental health services or emergency detention within those 24 hours.
“I expressed over and over that I did not want her to stay there,” Geist said Friday, adding that investigators even obtained a copy of an “against medical advice” form he’d signed in a failed attempt to leave with his daughter.
“They constantly lied to me and said she had to stay there legally, and I had no legal recourse.”
Geist called the indictments “a step in the right direction in regards to getting my daughter the help that she needs.”
“The fact that she is scarred from the experience and she had previous emotional problems before she went in there expecting help and was kept against all of our wills, it’s overwhelming to say the least,” he said.
If found to have violated the Mental Heath Code, punishment carries up to a $100,000 fine for each day the offenses were alleged to have been committed.
Court records also indicate that a doctor has been indicted in the case.
Dr. Sreenath Nekkalapu was indicted Nov. 14 on allegations that he violated the Texas Mental Health Code by detaining a woman at Sundance hospital in Arlington for 17 days without obtaining a court order.
The indictment had not been made immediately public because Nekkalapu was not arrested until Nov. 20, according to jail records. He is free on bond.
The Texas Medical Board lists Nekkalapu as a licensed physician who specializes in psychiatry and child and adolescent psychiatry.
If convicted, Nekkalapu could face up to two years in jail for each violation and each day of a continuing violation, according to the Health and Safety Code.
His defense attorney, Daniel Hagood, declined to comment.
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 law firm of Varghese Summersett, which is representing Sundance Behavioral Healthcare System, said in a statement released Friday afternoon that “our position on these charges remains unchanged.”
“This is an unprecedented overreach that has ramifications for every healthcare provider in Texas and subjects our community to significant public safety risks. Professionals who serve the mentally ill make decisions based on the best interests of the patient and the community. The Mental Health Code recognizes how difficult these decisions can be and prohibits prosecution against anyone acting in good faith.”
The law firm went on to say that the District Attorney’s Office is “no stranger to the issues surrounding detention of the mentally ill” and pointed to the recent fatal beating of accused child molester Clinton Don Simpson inside the Tarrant County Jail.
“One needs to look no further than the recent death of an inmate in the Tarrant County Jail to understand the dangers the mentally ill can pose and why, at times, restraining their liberty is justified to protect both themselves and the community at large,” the statement reads.
Other former patients have reached out to the Star-Telegram, alleging they too were held against their will.