Sundance Behavioral Healthcare has been indicted by a Tarrant County grand jury on nine criminal counts, including for holding four patients involuntarily at the company’s Arlington facility.
The indictment details how Sundance knowingly violated state mental health code by detaining patients for longer than the 48-hour statutory maximum without gaining a court order of protective custody, according to Tarrant District Attorney Sharen Wilson.
“People turned to what they thought was a trusted medical facility and were not allowed to leave as the law requires,” Wilson said in a release. “These offenses were a corporate failure and the corporation must be held accountable.”
The punishment for the charges against facilities like Sundance carry up to a $100,000 fine for each day the offenses were alleged to have been committed.
WFAA has broadcast a series of stories the past year highlighting patient concerns at Sundance and a number of other for-profit psychiatric facilities. The stories detail how voluntary patients may be held against their will despite filing written requests to leave the facility.
In fact, WFAA held a town hall meeting “Against Their Will,” devoting an entire evening news cast to their concerns. Several dozen former patients and their families came to the WFAA studio to describe their experience of being held against their will in North Texas for-profit mental hospitals.
WFAA let them tell their stories. What we couldn’t fit into our 12-minute TV segment, was later aired in its entirety online.
One of the families described – in what was captured on video - how they had to break out of a North Texas facility when they failed to gain their daughter’s voluntary release. Both elderly and young children also have described their inability to gain release, especially if they had good-paying insurance.
After their participation in our “Against Their Will” panel discussion, State Rep. Zedler and Rep. Stephanie Klick told WFAA they plan to introduce legislation to crack down on private, for-profit nursing home and mental health facilities.
Both lawmakers said they believe Texas needs to have better safeguards against facilities who violate the law by holding voluntary patients without court orders.
Varghese Summersett, who is representing Sundance Behavioral Healthcare System, released the following statement in response:
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.