Oklahoma’s Republican governor and senior senator have called for authorities to investigate a troubled psychiatric facility in Tulsa that was the subject of a BuzzFeed News investigation.
Violence at Shadow Mountain Behavioral Health often put patients and staff in danger, the investigation found, and the facility has been plagued by understaffing. The head nurse was hired despite three disciplinary actions, including one for shooting up drugs while on duty in an intensive care unit. Surveillance videos obtained by BuzzFeed News showed the hospital director placing young patients in holds that a nationally-recognized expert called “dangerous” and “totally unnecessary.”
Shadow Mountain is owned by America’s largest chain of psychiatric hospitals, Universal Health Services, or UHS. In an unusual deal, a small company based at the home of a UHS executive who oversees Shadow Mountain received about $180,000 a year in rent from the facility.
The state “needs to investigate and make sure a plan of action is developed as soon as possible to address any problems,” said Governor Mary Fallin in a statement to BuzzFeed News.
“I encourage the state to fully investigate this matter,” added Senator Jim Inhofe in a statement. “The recent reports about Shadow Mountain are very concerning,” he said. “It’s imperative that Oklahoma's health care facilities are held to the highest standards of care.”
After receiving questions from BuzzFeed News, Oklahoma’s Department of Human Services opened an investigation into Mike Kistler, the hospital’s director, as well as the facility regarding possible abuse and neglect. The probe is one of nine open investigations into Shadow Mountain, according to local news reports.
“We look forward to seeing the findings,” Oklahoma’s junior senator, Republican James Lankford, said in a statement to BuzzFeed News.
UHS, whose psychiatric division had profit margins last year of around 27%, said the company “is proud of the care it provides patients at Shadow Mountain Behavioral Health,” which has been named a "Top Performer in Key Quality Measures" by The Joint Commission, a nonprofit that accredits hospitals across the country. UHS said none of the patients in the videos suffered bodily harm and that experts couldn’t judge the videos without full patient histories. Shadow Mountain told Fox23, a local news station, that it would cooperate fully with the state’s investigation.
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Since 2015, Oklahoma has repeatedly put Shadow Mountain on probation for allegations including violations of state staffing regulations, medication errors, and not reporting sexual misconduct. The hospital largely treats children and adolescents, as well as some adults.
BuzzFeed News has been investigating UHS for a year and a half. A previous story revealed that employees in ten hospitals across nine states said they were under pressure to fill beds by any means, including twisting people’s words or exaggerating their conditions to make them seem suicidal. UHS strongly disputed those findings, saying it “absolutely rejects” any claim that it held patients solely for financial gain. The company said “every patient care decision is made with the goal of furthering the best interests of our patients.” It also launched a website in response.
Another story showed how one of UHS’ Florida hospitals locked a 6-year-old boy on the psych ward, even though his parents said he had merely thrown a tantrum and repeatedly asked to take him home. UHS said the story “draws false conclusions.”
An ongoing federal investigation into more than 1 in 10 of the company’s hospitals is also examining whether UHS committed Medicare fraud. The company has denied any allegations of wrongdoing and said it is cooperating with the investigation.