Congressman Joe Kennedy III just took a strong stand for everyone fighting to improve mental health care in America.

This week, Kennedy called for “swift action” in the federal investigation of potentially illegal clinical practices at Universal Health Services (UHS), the biggest behavioral health provider in America.

Rep. Kennedy — joined by Rep. Danny Davis of Illinois — sent a letter to the top official of Medicare and Medicaid expressing “serious concerns about the welfare of patients” at UHS’s behavioral facilities. (UHS got over $4 billion last year from Medicare and Medicaid.)

Rep. Kennedy’s district includes Arbour-HRI, one of 21 UHS behavioral facilities under investigation by federal officials. As his letter noted, Arbour-HRI is part of a UHS health system that’s been cited for “staffing failures, ‘cutting corners,’ negligent care, and even patient deaths” by the Boston Globe.

The word about UHS is definitely getting out. The Dallas Morning News just ran a powerful story about a tragic suicide and other serious breakdowns in care at UHS’s Timberlawn psychiatric hospital in Texas. The story cited UHS Behind Closed Doors team member Ryan Pfeffer noting these “issues are not uncommon” at UHS facilities.

For too long, UHS’s troubled mental health facilities had been able to keep a low profile. But thanks to the work of Reps. Kennedy and Davis — and to the 11,000 signers of our petition to UHS — we’re putting a spotlight on the problems at the for-profit healthcare chain.

§  Read coverage of the Kennedy-Davis letter in Modern Healthcare and the Chicago Tribune.

§  Read the media advisory from Rep. Kennedy’s office. And the full text of the letter from Reps. Kennedy and Davis is below.

June 23, 2015

Andy Slavitt
Acting Administrator
Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services
Department of Health and Human Services
Hubert H. Humphrey Building, Room 445-G
200 Independence Avenue, SW
Washington, DC 20201

Dear Acting Administrator Slavitt:

We are writing regarding the ongoing investigations into Universal Health Services (UHS), a for­ profit hospital management company with over 200 behavioral health facilities located throughout the U.S. Recent news reports have highlighted alarming incidences of mismanagement and negligence raising questions about the company’s ability to provide quality care to Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries.

As you may be aware, there are ongoing federal investigations at 21 UHS-owned facilities, and recently, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) Criminal Frauds Section began an investigation of the parent company. In addition to criminal fraud investigations of UHS corporate and three facilities in Florida, there is an ongoing False Claims Act investigation by the DOJ Civil Division and the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of the Inspector General of 18 additional UHS facilities. We are deeply concerned about this expanding federal probe not only because UHS facilities operate in our districts but because UHS is the nation’s largest provider of inpatient behavioral health services, operating one in five inpatient mental health beds[1] with $4.3 billion of Medicare and Medicaid revenue in 2014.[2]

Media and press reports point toward a troubling number of quality of care and patient safety failures at UHS-owned facilities. The Boston Globe published a series of articles in 2013 and 2014 citing staffing failures, “cutting corners,” negligent care, and even patient deaths across Arbour Health System facilities in Massachusetts.[3] Particularly problematic was Arbour HRI, a UHS psychiatric hospital in Brookline that federal investigators have cited for clinical deficiencies that may have hindered patients’ recoveries.[4] In addition to UHS corporate, DOJ is investigating three facilities in Florida, including Wekiva Springs Center, River Point Behavioral Health, and National Deaf Academy.

In December 2014, The Chicago Tribune in conjunction with Northwestern University’s Medill Watchdog published a series of articles detailing violence, sexual assaults, patient runaways, and lack of security staff at Rock River Academy in Illinois, Foundations for Living in Ohio, and other facilities. As a result of these alarming stories, the Illinois Department of Children and Families placed Rock River Academy under an intake hold and enhanced monitoring. This facility, which UHS has chosen to close, is currently under federal investigation.

We also are concerned by reports of retaliation against employees who expose problems at UHS facilities. A 2011 report by the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) on Hartgrove Hospital concluded that “Hartgrove staff were reportedly told by UHS officials (parent company) that anyone suspected of providing information to the UIC reviewers would be fired.”[5]

Given the serious allegations of fraud, negligence, and staff retaliation, we have serious concerns about the welfare of patients. We respectfully request an update regarding HHS’ investigation and additional information on any actions that CMS or HHS plan to take in response to the grave allegations against UHS.

Thank you in advance for your attention and cooperation with our request. We look forward to hearing more from you on this matter.


Joseph P. Kennedy III, Member of Congress                 Danny Davis, Member of Congress