State health officials want to close one of the oldest psychiatric hospitals in Texas. Timberlawn Mental Health System in East Dallas has had a series of violations, including a suicide and fights between patients, dating back to 2009.
In a letter sent to Timberlawn dated December 2015, the state outlined 11 violations the hospital committed. They include failures to protect and monitor patients, not keeping areas clean and registered nurses not regularly checking up on patients.
Carrie Williams, spokeswoman for the Texas Department of State Health Services, said the state plans to issue a fine of more than $1 million and revoke the hospital’s license.
That’s just the first step. Williams said a meeting between the state and hospital is scheduled for late April.
“That's a point in time where they can come and provide information that we can consider and possibly adjust the proposed penalty and revocation,” Williams said. “What hospitals typically do is bring in information that they feel that wasn’t available or information they feel we missed at the time."
Williams said if both parties don’t reach an agreement, Timberlawn has the option of taking its case to the State Office of Administrative Hearings or SOAH.
“The bottom line is we’re not in the business of shutting down hospitals,” Williams said. “That’s the last thing that we want to do. What we want to do is work with hospitals to make corrections and make sure they’re providing safe care for people.”
Some North Texas health officials say they’ve been preparing for Timberlawn’s closure for awhile. When reports about unsafe conditions at Timberlawn hospital first surfaced, mental health advocates scrambled to find other places to send patients for treatment.
“At this point in time, the community has had to fill in the holes and they have,” said Sherry Cusumano, president of the National Alliance on Mental Illness in Dallas, and executive director of community education for Green Oaks Hospital, another Dallas facility that accepts psychiatric patients.
Timberlawn is one of the few psychiatric hospitals in Dallas that admits poor and uninsured patients.
Last year, federal health officials cut the hospital’s funding because of patient safety concerns. Cusumano says that meant the 144-bed facility had to reduce the number of beds for patients on Medicare or Medicaid.
“Since they haven’t been serving any more than 10 people for quite some time, I’m not sure them not re-opening would have a major impact on the community,” Cusumano said. “You know what I’m saying? How can you miss what you haven’t had?"
Many mental health advocates say Timberlawn hospital’s on-going problems highlight the lack of quality care for people who need treatment.
The company that owns Timberlawn did not respond to KERA’s request for comment. The hospital has said it’s made improvements and wants to keep serving patients.