Arlington

Woman says she was held against her will at Arlington mental hospital, files lawsuit

Suicides are rising across the U.S.

Suicide is on the rise across the United States. It is more than a mental health condition — states and communities can adopt comprehensive strategies to prevent suicide.
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Suicide is on the rise across the United States. It is more than a mental health condition — states and communities can adopt comprehensive strategies to prevent suicide.

Another person has come forward saying she was held against her will at Sundance Behavioral Hospital in Arlington.

Kelly Flanigan, 54, says doctors at the hospital illegally kept her for eight days and she was denied medication needed to treat various medical issues. In her eight-day stay, she lost 20 pounds, she says in the lawsuit, which was filed in Tarrant County on Thursday.

The suit names three doctors, but not the institution, as defendants.

Flanigan’s lawyer said the woman never gave any indication to Sundance that she was suicidal or a threat to others.

In December, Sundance Behavioral Hospital, also known as SAS Healthcare Inc., had been indicted on 20 counts of allegedly holding at least 11 patients involuntarily and illegally at its Arlington hospital. On Dec. 21, the corporation announced through its attorneys that it had closed all three of its facilities amid the criminal investigation and surrendered its license to Health and Human Services.

In March, Sundance was indicted on 26 additional counts which included six new people who say they were held against their will at the hospital.

New lawsuit

On Feb. 16, 2017, Flanigan went to My Health My Resources Tarrant County to talk about an ongoing mental health issue she had been dealing with for many years, the lawsuit says. MHMR referred her to Sundance, and Dr. Jaswant Pandher evaluated her via video-conference.

Three minutes after the evaluation began, Pandher signed off for Flanigan to be admitted to Sundance, saying she had made suicidal comments to MHMR, according to the suit.

Flanigan’s lawyer, Ramon de Jesus Rodriguez, said that was not the case, and Sundance only admitted Flanigan to capitalize on insurance money.

Flanigan was not able to see a doctor until her fourth day in the hospital when Dr. Sreenath Nekkalapu and Dr. Ramakrishna Veluri evaluated her. Flanigan said the doctors denied her the medication she takes for chronic pain caused by a missing disc in her spine, according to the suit.

During her stay at Sundance, Flanigan said, her anxiety rose because her dogs were left at her home without care. The dogs went at least three days without food and water, Rodriguez said.

Flanigan’s unwarranted stay at Sundance worsened her physical and mental problems that she previously had a handle on, Rodriguez said. She is now seeing six or seven specialists for various issues.

“While she was there, her treatment was so woeful, a lot of her physical issues reverted back,” he said.

Several people have reached out to the Star-Telegram saying they were held against their will at the hospital.

The doctors

Nekkalapu was indicted Nov. 14 on allegations that he violated the Texas Mental Health Code by detaining a woman at Sundance hospital for 17 days without obtaining a court order. Nekkalapu’s lawyer was not immediately available for comment on the lawsuit.

SNekkalapu-001.jpg
Dr. Sreenath Nekkalapu Tarrant County Officials

Veluri is listed as working at Mesa Springs Hospital in Fort Worth, which specializes in mental and behavioral health, according to the Texas Medical Board. He could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Pandher referred questions to the company he works for, RediAnswer. Sundance had contracted with RediAnswer to provide on-call pre-admission evaluations by physicians for the hospital.

The organization’s administrator, Dr. Jesse Chang said, “Dr. Pandher is very experienced. His responsibility was to determine if a patient was physically stable and needed to see a psychiatrist.”

Chang said Pandher then passed along his preliminary evaluation to the hospital. The hospital, he said, is responsible for assigning a psychiatrist and submitting paperwork to the county court for approval if involuntary hospitalization beyond 48 hours is needed.

“We are not psychiatrists and have no financial incentive whatsoever whether the patient stays or leaves the hospital after the evaluation,” Chang said in an email. “Our primary concern is the patient’s personal/physical safety at the time of the evaluation.”

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

In addition to Arlington, Its locations included 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 represents Sundance Behavioral Healthcare System, declined to comment on the lawsuit since the hospital was not named as a defendant.

In a previous statement about the indictments, the law firm said, “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.”

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