Troubled mental health hospital in Winston-Salem pressing case for expansion at public hearing today

For Release: Monday, 5/18/15 // Contact: Jim McNeill, Cell 202-213-1614, Jim@UHSBehindClosedDoors.org

WHEN: Monday, May 18, 11 a.m. // WHERE: Kernersville Town Hall, Council Chambers – 134 East Mountain St., Kernersville, N.C.

KERNERSVILLE, N.C. — A troubled mental health hospital in Winston-Salem is planning to add 60 beds, but controversial facts about the facility will be aired at a public hearing today about its expansion plans. (The Winston-Salem Journal wrote a preview story about the hearing here.)

Old Vineyard Behavioral Health Services has filed a Certificate of Need application with state regulators to build a $14 million addition to its existing facility. But both Old Vineyard and its parent company — Universal Health Services (UHS) — are currently under federal investigation for potentially illegal clinical and billing practices.

Old Vineyard and UHS, the nation’s largest behavioral health provider, are part of a widening federal probe into more than 20 UHS behavioral facilities across the country by the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General (OIG). UHS’s corporate office is also the subject of a related criminal fraud investigation.

“This probe into potentially widespread illegal activity suggests that Old Vineyard and UHS may be providing substandard care to the vulnerable population they serve,” said Aneeb Sharif, spokesperson for the UHS Behind Closed Doors project of SEIU, the nation’s largest union of caregivers. “We believe this application should not be approved, and that Old Vineyard should focus on improvement, not expansion.”

Old Vineyard has a history of problems with state and federal regulators. In 2013, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) found that Old Vineyard had placed patients in “immediate jeopardy” and warned the facility that its participation in the Medicare program would be terminated if deficiencies were not corrected.

CMS cited an incident in which a nurse said she was unable to intervene to protect a 12-year-old boy pinned to the floor by a 250-pound staff member. She said, “I am rarely able to leave our glass bubble [nursing station because]…we have 18 patients with one nurse.”

State approval of Old Vineyard’s expansion proposal is based on its ability to conform to strict review criteria, including the ability to provide adequate staffing and quality care. However, community members and health care advocates have expressed serious concerns about Old Vineyard and UHS’s deficiencies in these areas.

Even though UHS is a publicly traded company on the New York Stock Exchange, CEO Alan Miller and his son control 85 percent of voting rights, which gives them effective control over its board of directors. And that fact raises red flags about management oversight and corporate governance at UHS.

Also, unlike other large for-profit hospital companies, UHS’s board of directors doesn’t have a dedicated committee that focuses primarily on quality of care and compliance issues. At other hospital companies, that committee offers an outlet for workers with concerns about care. At UHS, caregivers have reported being retaliated against or fired when they raise concerns.

A comprehensive source of information about UHS and the ongoing federal investigation can be found at the UHS Behind Closed Doors website here. The backgrounder on the federal probe also includes a full list of the 21 UHS facilities under investigation as well as links to inspection reports, lawsuit filings and other information about many of those facilities.

UHSBehindClosedDoors.org is bringing to light serious problems in care at Universal Health Services, the nation’s largest provider of behavioral health care. It is an online resource for mental health advocates and caregivers supported by the Service Employees International Union.