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Mental hospital attorneys say DA used criminal charges to force hospital into selling

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - 11/16/2018

Nov. 16--FORT WORTH -- Attorneys for a North Texas hospital corporation have alleged that Tarrant County is using criminal charges as a tool to force a mental health hospital to buckle at the negotiating table and sell.

SAS Healthcare Inc., commonly known as Sundance Behavioral Heathcare System, was indicted Wednesday on nine criminal counts alleging violations of the Texas Mental Health Code.

The corporation, which provides inpatient and outpatient treatment for children and adults and specializes in the treatment of mental health, chemical dependency and detoxification, is accused of holding four patients involuntarily and illegally at its Arlington hospital.

Sundance attorneys have argued that the reason the Tarrant County District Attorney's office is pursuing criminal charges is to weaken the position of hospital officials during sales negotiations, negotiations that hospital officials never sought out.

"This rogue prosecution by the Criminal District Attorney occurred as Tarrant County Hospital District (JPS) attempted to purchase Sundance Hospital," the motion states. "The investigation drastically devalued the local business, crippled its operations, and brought the owners to the bargaining table when JPS made an unsolicited bid to purchase."

Sundance has billed JPS for more than $4 million during 2017 through 2018, the motion stated.

"The criminal investigation devalued Sundance as an asset and brought the owners of Sundance, who were formerly unwilling to sell, to their knees," the motion stated.

"The overall effect of this prosecution made the day-to-day operations of Sundance Hospital unprofitable and impossible to maintain."

The Tarrant County District Attorney's Office issued a statement saying this is a pending matter and that all the facts would come out in court.

The motion alleges that the district attorney's office refused to support or sponsor Sundance hospitalizations during its investigations, which meant that probate courts were unable to process applications for orders of protective custody.

Without those orders for protective custody, Sundance was legally prevented from providing overflow treatment for mentally ill people who were involuntarily committed, curtailing a significant part of the hospital's business, according to Sundance attorneys.

The motion calls the criminalization of the actions of medical professionals "dangerous," and warns that the criminal process ignores the immunity granted to mental health professionals that allows them to practice and undermines the available remedies for proper enforcement.

"The chilling effect this prosecution could bring with it upon other hospital and psychiatric professions should not be ignored," the motion states. "The unprecedented, arbitrary and selective nature of this prosecution brings with it serious conflict of interest concerns and results in questionable public policy that make providing care even more difficult."

Sundance attorneys also argued that the district attorney's office is overstepping its bounds by bringing these criminal charges.

Prosecutors filed Thursday an 11-page notice of extraneous offenses and bad acts that they intend to introduce. The offenses ranged from not conducting welfare checks, then lying about it, in regards to a patient who committed suicide in its Arlington hospital last month to not timely reporting -- or reporting at all -- sexual assaults and assaults to the proper authorities, according to the notice.

This story includes information from Star-Telegram archives

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