PHILADELPHIA (CN) — A Pennsylvania mom whose teenage son was involuntarily committed claims in court that the scabies-infested hospital was following a revenue-driven scheme to fill its beds.
Represented by the Weitz Law Firm, the Collegeville-based family brought their Feb. 19 complaint in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas, taking aim at Universal Health Services and two UHS partner-facilities, the Friends Hospital and the Brooke Glen Behavioral Hospital.
Referring to the son by a pseudonym, the family says 17-year-old John Doe’s “capture and imprisonment” began on April 18, 2017.
A high school sophomore at the time, Doe suffered from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and sometimes acted out. Having been grounded by his parents for such behavior, Doe texted them on April 18: “maybe you would be happier if I was not here,” according to the complaint.
Concerned about the text, Doe’s parents followed the advice of a school counselor to get the boy evaluated at Brooke Glen.
The complaint says Doe’s parents waited for nearly six hours before “a gentleman claiming to be a physician” asked them to sign papers voluntarily committing him for evaluation.
When the parents refused, the gentleman allegedly came back to tell them he obtained a “court order” involuntarily committing Doe for inpatient care.
Part of the UHS Enterprise, Brooke Glen told the family that Doe was being involuntarily committed because Doe was at risk for suicide, according to the complaint. But the family notes that, “from the time he entered the UHS Enterprise, Doe denied having suicidal ideation, thoughts or a plan.”
Questioning whether there ever really was a court order, the family says Brooke Glen ultimately transferred Doe to one of its sister UHS facilities, the Friends Hospital, because it didn’t have an open bed.
It was not until late the next day that the Friends Hospital told Doe’s family that their “court order” permitted them to hold Doe for 7 to 10 days, the complaint states.
The parents were allegedly barred from seeing Doe until April 20. The family says they each reported that Doe was being bullied, but hospital staffers gave conflicting information about when Doe could come home.
On April 24, UHS Enterprise staff “threatened Doe that if he did not sign documents to extend his stay, that they would go “back to court” to obtain “another order” to hold Doe for a month,” the complaint states.
The Friends Hospital finally released Doe on April 24 after the boy was attacked, the family says. They note that Doe was diagnosed at the emergency room “with a fractured nose, multiple other contusions and injuries and a severe case of scabies.”
Seeking punitive damages for corporate negligence and false imprisonment, Doe and his mom dedicate roughly a quarter of their 35-page complaint to UHS Enterprise’s reputation for unscrupulously filling its hospital beds.
“Importantly, private health insurance such as that available for John Doe in this case, has accounted for almost one-half of all behavioral health services revenues” at UHS, the complaint states.
Citing the hospital network’s 2016 SEC filings, Doe and his mom note that UHS Enterprise increased “its net revenues from behavioral health services to over $4.6 billion.”
“As of the close of the market on Sept. 22, 2017, the UHS Enterprise’s market capitalization exceeded $10 billion,” the complaint later states.
Doe and his mom attached a series of Buzzfeed articles about UHS Enterprise’s apparent scheme as an exhibit to the complaint.
In it, “current and former employees of the UHS Enterprise confessed that they were under pressure to fill beds by almost any method which included, inter alia, exaggerating people’s symptoms or twisting their words to make them seem suicidal so that the company could hold the patient until their insurance was exhausted,” the complaint states.
“Admissions workers at the UHS Enterprise hospitals revealed that they were expected to keep beds full, so they learned how to turn passing statements into something that sounded dangerous,” the complaint continues.
In an email responding to the allegations, UHS said it plans to mount a vigorous defense.
“UHS has consistently denied the allegations made in the BuzzFeed article regarding admission and discharge practices at UHS facilities and continues to do so,” the hospital group said.
Citing patient confidentiality requirements and the pending litigation, UHS otherwise declined to comment. On its website uhsthefacts.com, CFP Steve Filton calls out Buzzfeed’s reporting as “misleading.”
The reporter “talked a lot about this suicidal ideation coding issue,” Filton said in a 2016 conference call with a Citigroup analyst. “This was an issue that was raised by a company affiliated with the labor unions a few years ago. We responded with a very sort of comprehensive response, really basically making the point that this code really has little regard to whether patients are admitted or not admitted, and to how you're paid, and so I think that was very misleading.”
Doe’s family meanwhile cites Medicare data to argue that from 2009, “the UHS Enterprise hospitals steadily increased the frequency with which they described patients as experiencing suicidal ideation.”
“In fact, by 2013, the UHS Enterprise hospitals ascribed a diagnosis of suicidal ideation to patients 4 1⁄2 times more than all non-UHS Enterprise psychiatric hospitals,” the complaint states.
“Similarly, in the first full year after the UHS Enterprise acquired 100 hospitals from Psychiatric Solutions, Inc., the billing code for suicidal ideation increased more than six-fold overall.”
Doe and his mom note that various federal and state authorities have subpoenaed UHS Enterprise or made civil or criminal inquiries.
Though the family has made multiple requests for Brooke Glen’s intake records on Doe, they say “there are no clinical notes of an evaluation by a nurse physician or any other healthcare provider at Brooke Glen.”
“On August 30, 2017, the UHS Enterprise facility certified that it possesses no records pertaining to Doe,” the complaint states.
“Unbeknownst to Doe’s parents and Doe, it is now believed that the UHS Enterprise never actually obtained a ‘court order’ or any other legal document involuntarily committing Doe,” it continues.
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