Officials: Patients at risk at Dallas psychiatric hospital

DALLAS (AP) — Federal officials have warned that patients at a psychiatric hospital in Dallas are in “immediate jeopardy” two years after Texas regulators threatened to close the facility over severe safety problems, a newspaper reported Sunday.

A Nov. 1 letter from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services addressed to Timberlawn’s chief executive said that Timberlawn Mental Health System “no longer meets the requirements for participation in the Medicare program because of deficiencies that represent immediate jeopardy to patient health and safety,” according to the Dallas Morning News, which obtained a copy of the letter.

A scathing inspection report by state regulators in October described how Timberlawn put children at risk, coinciding with a 13-year-old patient’s allegations that she was raped by a 17-year-old male patient.

Long a mainstay of psychiatric care in Dallas, Timberlawn serves adults and adolescents. The for-profit hospital is part of national chain Universal Health Services Inc.

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The October report found that the hospital placed boys and girls in bedrooms near one another. Experts say this poses a problem when combined with poor staffing. Inspectors cited this in their report about the alleged rape in October.

Timberlawn CEO James Miller denied that the hospital was dangerous and said he viewed every visit from hospital regulators as an opportunity to improve. His staff, he said in a statement to the newspaper, “strives to provide our patients with the best possible care and treatment in a safe environment.”

The federal and state scrutiny raises questions about whether Texas has done enough to ensure safety. The problems occurred even as the state says it visited the hospital 10 times this year before the reported rape.

State officials said they were doing everything possible to make sure the facility met safety standards, including visits that often spanned several days.

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“We’re monitoring the Timberlawn situation very closely,” said Carrie Williams, spokeswoman for the Texas Health and Human Services Commission.

Texas regulators had ordered Timberlawn to close in March 2016, citing a patient’s 2014 suicide, violent fights among patients, dirty conditions and medical records issues. But the 144-bed complex negotiated a way to stay open: a $190,000 fine and a three-year probation.

In July 2016, a patient agitated by news that he would be transferred was arrested on a manslaughter charge after tackling a staff physician and causing her head to slam on the hard floor.