Lee County mom says Florida psychiatric facility failed her teen daughter: ‘It was scary’

Reporter: Kellie Miller
Published: Updated:

Mental health care is an essential community service, but many individuals are unable to find adequate treatment programs. Overall, Florida ranks 49th in the U.S. for access to care, and people in our own community are feeling the effects.

“Somebody just needs to be held accountable, and I’m not okay with this,” a Lee County mother told WINK Investigates reporter Kellie Miller. 

What started as an ordinary day for the mother and her daughter, ended in a traumatizing trip to a mental health care facility nearly 100 miles away.

“The communication was just very poor, especially being a parent who has never dealt with anything this severe before; it was scary,” Mom said. 

Scary for Mom and for her 15-year-old who suffers from anxiety and depression. Mom asked us to hide their identities for medical privacy. Regardless, she wants answers. 

“I don’t plan to stop until somebody takes it seriously,” Mom said. 

On April 12, the teen had a manic episode while in class and later that day at home. Mom said she called 911 when the daughter attempted to hurt herself. 

According to the police report WINK News obtained, deputies from the Lee County Sheriff’s Office responded to the family’s home around 3:40 p.m. that day. The teen was then sent to Golisano Children’s Hospital under the Baker Act, a Florida law that allows for the involuntary examination and temporary treatment of individuals experiencing a mental health crisis. A person can be held for up to 72 hours, and during that process, a doctor determines whether longer-term treatment is needed. 

Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida provided WINK News with a statement, which can be attributed to regional medical officer Dr. Emad Salman.

“We have strong and effective processes for medically stabilizing patients admitted to our Emergency Department who may require emergency commitments to a community partner. We have a team of psychiatrists at all of our hospitals to support the behavioral health needs of our community. Patients are evaluated as soon as possible within 72 hours by trained professionals who determine the best course of action for each patient. Golisano Children’s Services works with local Behavioral Health Centers for the patient’s safe transfer once they are medically ready to be discharged from the hospital. The goal is for these patients to get treatment in the least restrictive environment possible.”

The teen’s medical records, which mom provided to WINK, show she was held at Golisano for about five hours, and late that night, sent to Suncoast Behavioral Health Center in Manatee County where she’d spend the next week. 

One document shows the personal items the teen arrived with such as necklaces and bracelets. However, Mom said the document excludes the hoodie the teen brought in. In an email, Mom said Suncoast cut the hood off, without permission.

“From the minute she was taken there to the day I had to request discharge, it was nothing but problems,” Mom said. “There was no communication, no one answered the telephone. No one gave their names. I have a notebook full of every interaction. Every time I called, who I spoke to, dates…”

Mom’s notes date back to April 12, the day she called 911. 

“Every time I called, I asked to speak to the doctor who I found out is the medical director there, Dr. Steven Stein,” Mom said. “He never returned a phone call. The only time I got a phone call back was when he wanted to switch her Lexapro to Prozac and then up the milligrams in a day’s time, and I was concerned by that.”

Mom’s Verizon call log shows she called Suncoast seven times on April 15 to get an update on her daughter. Although she eventually got a call back, Mom said it wasn’t from her daughter’s doctor. Then, on April 18, Mom found out about an altercation between her daughter and another patient. 

“I trusted these people to care for my daughter in a way that I couldn’t,” Mom said.

Suncoast only allows visitors on weekends for one hour. Mom saw her distressed teen once, before requesting discharge on April 19. 

“It took them almost a month to get me her records, her full records,” Mom said. “And when I opened them, pages were blank, days were missing.” 

One psychiatric evaluation form falsely refers to the teen girl as “him” in one sentence. Mom claims it also includes inaccurate details about the teen’s mental history.

“I don’t know if they just kind of hope that people don’t dig into this or stick up for themselves,” Mom said. “But I am my daughter’s biggest advocate, and people need to take it seriously.”

Mom believes the mental health services her daughter received made the situation worse. 

“And if I could go back, I definitely would because this was not the purpose of it,” Mom said. 

WINK News reached out to Suncoast Behavioral Health Center and a representative provided us with this statement. 

“Due to HIPAA patient privacy laws, we are unable to discuss specific patients or their care.  As a matter of Facility protocol, any allegations are taken seriously and thoroughly investigated. Suncoast Behavioral Health Center is a private, inpatient psychiatric facility dedicated to providing quality services in a supportive, healing environment to children and adolescents.”

WINK Investigates reporter Kellie Miller also spoke directly to the manager of clinical services at Suncoast who said she’d pass along WINK’s message to the company’s CEO. At this point, WINK News has not received any callbacks. Meanwhile, Mom filed a formal complaint against Suncoast through the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA).

To file a complaint, call (888) 419-3456, or complete the Health Care Facility Complaint Form.

‘Our mental health and substance abuse system is outdated,’ Sheriff Bill Prummell said

After hearing this mother’s story, WINK News met up with Charlotte County Sheriff Bill Prummell. He’s a member of the Commission on Mental Health and Substance Abuse, which is tasked with evaluating mental health care and substance abuse services in Florida.

Charlotte County Sheriff Bill Prummell. Credit: WINK News

The Commission is responsible for submitting two reports to the Governor, President of the Senate, and Speaker of the House of Representatives. The interim report was due on Jan. 1. It includes a list of recommendations the Commission believes will improve Florida’s system of care. In February, he presented the interim report to state leaders in Tallahassee.

“This whole process has really educated me a lot to what’s going on statewide,” Prummell said. “And it really opened my eyes that our system is broken. It needs to be fixed.”

The first recommendation involves developing a pilot Master Client Index to improve data transparency, collection, and storage. Doing so will improve how the state uses information when evaluating performance, individual outcomes, and identifying issues. 

“One of the frustrating things is that we don’t share information anywhere in the state,” Prummell said. “They all have their own databases, so somebody can bounce from system to system and nobody’s the wiser.”

Another recommendation: implement a three-year pilot in which one entity manages all public, behavioral health funding in a geographic area. The goal is to ensure the community has access to timely, quality, and comprehensive services, therefore, the pilot must provide a minimum of nine types of services through contracts with partner organizations. According to the report, emphasis would be placed on the provision of 24-hour crisis care, care coordination with community partners, integration with physical health care, and provider payment through a prospective payment system.

“The money follows the program,” Prummell said. “So, if that money funds this program, you’re golden. But then as you move into this program, if there’s no money there, they need to try and find the next best thing for you that is funded. So the money is not following the person like it should be.”

Prummell also discussed recommendation 9 in the report: Modernize the Baker Act. According to the report, “the changes reflect case law and scientific developments and will conserve state resources while ensuring that care is more efficiently provided.”

“We have other avenues that we may be able to go with somebody, rather than just taking them in and Baker Acting them,” Prummell said. 

After all, as the Lee County mother shared, forcing a minor into a broken system is not always the right approach. 

“She lost a lot of her freedoms inside there,” Mom said. “And she felt like it was more of a punishment than a place that was supposed to help her, and that’s not what it was at all, and I don’t think any kid should feel that way.”

The Commission on Mental Health and Substance Abuse is set to end in September. However, Prummell said he’s working closely with Florida senators to get an extension for at least two more years. 

“We have a chance to make it right and make a difference, and we need to, and I hope our legislators don’t kick it down the road,” Prummell said. 

You can read the report below.

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