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11 hospitals related to Kansas City's Two Rivers under scrutiny

Universal Health Services, the company that operates the Two Rivers Behavioral Health System facility in Kansas City, is in the news for potential negligence, understaffing and even abuse at its psychiatric hospitals. Its latest quarterly report to the Securities and Exchange Commission revealed that eleven of its psychiatric facilities have received subpoenas from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The reason for those subpoenas has not been made public, but DHHS’s job is investigating claims of fraud or abuse in healthcare programs receiving federal funding.

According to the Boston Globe’s White Coat Notes blog, UHS is the nation’s largest operator of freestanding psychiatric and behavior health facilities. Unfortunately, the company has a long history of understaffing those facilities. More troubling for patients may be the findings of three state investigations over the past few years:

  • In 2011, health officials in Pennsylvania found such low staffing levels and poor conditions — including excessive use of physical restraints — that they ordered a UHS facility to stop admitting children and teens.
  • That same year, investigators cited a UHS psychiatric facility in the Chicago-area for allowing violence to become “an everyday occurrence” due to chronic understaffing.
  • Last year, North Carolina moved toward revoking one UHS residential treatment facility’s license altogether due to violence and, among other findings, staff incompetence.
  • Earlier this year, the Globe reported that three UHS-owned facilities in Massachusetts were cited for having dozens of unlicensed or improperly supervised therapists on staff; that the treatment of at least one mental health patient was found by a state panel to be abusive and inhumane; and that some facilities were suspected of negligence in the deaths of three patients.

UHS operates nearly 200 behavior and mental health facilities nationwide, and there is no indication whether Two Rivers is among those under investigation. The Globe’s blogger declares, however, that UHS’s history of understaffing has rarely been taken into much account by state regulators.

Yet the company is growing. It reported earnings of around $443 million last year, citing its 2010 acquisition of Psychiatric Solutions, Inc., for $3.1 billion.

When an individual doctor makes an inexcusable mistake, it’s medical malpractice. When the profit motive sends staffing levels so low that patients can’t realistically receive appropriate care, it’s hospital malpractice, and the responsible hospital operators must be held accountable.

Source: Boston Globe’s White Coat Notes blog, “Psychiatric hospital company’s staffing problems nationally overlooked by state regulators,” Chelsea Conaboy, Nov. 11, 2013