Video allegedly shows UHS behavioral health facility staff assaulting young patients: 8 things to know

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Internal surveillance videos from Hill Crest Behavioral Health Services, a behavioral health facility in Birmingham, Ala., reportedly show several instances of Hill Crest healthcare professionals violently assaulting young hospital patients, according to a BuzzFeed News investigation.

The report is part of BuzzFeed News' two-year investigation into the facility's parent company, King of Prussia, Pa.-based Universal Health Services. For the investigation, BuzzFeed News obtained internal security footage, conducted interviews with roughly 50 former patients, family members and current and former employees, and reviewed "hundreds of pages" of legal and medical documents.

Here are eight takeaways from the investigation.

1. In one piece of video footage from April 2015 obtained by BuzzFeed News, Hill Crest worker Isaac Doughty allegedly chokes Hayden Vice, then 15, pushing him to the floor and dragging him into a nearby room out of view of the security camera. Mr. Vice reappears onscreen minutes later with blood on his face and shirt. He is then taken back into the room and does not reppear onscreen for approximately 30 minutes.

2. Mr. Vice told BuzzFeed News during the moments where he's out of view of the camera, Mr. Doughty "smashed his head into the dresser then picked up [Mr. Vice's] right foot, [which] was in a cast, and slammed it down to the ground," according to the report. Mr. Vice claimed the violent incident began after he told Mr. Doughty he would not take a shower and get his cast wet, per his nurse's orders.

3. In a Nov. 9 statement to BuzzFeed News, Hill Crest Behavioral Health Services President and CEO Steve McCabe wrote the videos obtained by the publication depicted "isolated incidents [that are] not indicative of the quality of care provided at Hill Crest," and administrators "regret and are disappointed in the instances of inappropriate conduct by our employees, which was inconsistent with the facility's policies and their training." UHS, Hill Crest's parent company, declined BuzzFeed News' requests for comment.

4. While many Hill Crest staff members claimed they did the best they could to help patients, other employees allegedly resorted to using chokeholds or twisting the arms and legs of patients to control them, according to the report. The workers who employed such tactics were seldom disciplined for their actions, according to the report. Stephanie Jenks, Mr. Vice's former therapist at Hill Crest who has since left the institution, told BuzzFeed News Hill Crest employees "would just push these kids' buttons." In Mr. Vice's case, Ms. Jenks said hospital workers allegedly antagonized him "so they could restrain him or put him on restriction or take something away from him. It was just abuse."

5. The families of several patients also told BuzzFeed News hospital workers lied about incidents with patients, often omitting certain facts to make the facility and employees appear not at fault for incidents with patients. Five employees told BuzzFeed News they were told to backdate or falsify patient charts — including charts for patients not under their care — which violates several state statutes. Mr. McCabe wrote in the statement the hospital's goal "is to help and heal those who come to us at their most vulnerable times in their lives." He also wrote "it is important to note that many patient allegations are ultimately revealed to be unsubstantiated, inaccurate or incomplete," the report states.

6. Several sources told the publication employees would often inject patients with sedatives or other drugs for nonclinical purposes. One video obtained by BuzzFeed News allegedly shows a female patient being injected with an unidentified drug before being carried to her room. Hill Crest officials told BuzzFeed News they "wholeheartedly [reject] any allegations that [employees] inappropriately administers medicines for any non-clinically justified purpose and [the facility] has never received a citation alleging or revealing such conduct."

7. Despite receiving high praise from the Alabama Department of Mental Health, which licenses the main hospital, and accreditation by The Joint Commission, an August 2015 investigation by county health department inspectors discovered roaches, gnats and dead rodents still in traps in the facility. In March 2016, inspectors identified nearly 24 items in the hospital's adult units that needed repair, including a hole in the wall, rotting wood and expired medication, some of which was not labeled properly, according to the report.

8. In a statement to Becker's Hospital Review Nov. 13, Hill Crest said it "strongly refutes BuzzFeed's sensationalized and distorted characterization of our facility. … We can say that these unrepresentative accounts from a few patients and disgruntled former employees are incomplete, inaccurate and misleading. Our most sacred responsibility is and will always be the care and treatment of our patients. … Mental health facilities treat a challenging population who need and deserve our most compassionate care. Isolated, regrettable incidents do occasionally occur. In such cases, we conduct a thorough investigation, report to the appropriate family members and authorities, and retrain or discipline staff, up to and including termination if necessary. Our facility is closely regulated and we are in good standing with the authorities who oversee, license and accredit us."

Editor's note: Becker's Hospital Review reached out to Hill Crest Behavioral Health Services' parent company, Universal Health Services, for comment and will update the article as more information becomes available.

To read the full BuzzFeed News investigation, click here.

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