Patients, Injured Counselor Sue Federal Agencies over Botched, Illegal Raids at Southern California Behavioral Health Facilities
Armed agents terrified patients and illegally detained health care personnel, including counselor who was injured. Many addiction patients left the facilities and subsequently relapsed. No charges have been filed.
RIVERSIDE, Oct. 2, 2017 – Several patients and employees at four Southern California behavioral health facilities filed suit today against federal law enforcement agencies for a series of botched raids in which heavily armed agents terrified patients and staff while investigating alleged insurance fraud.
Federal agencies have refused to disclose any basis for the search warrants. No one has been arrested or charged in connection with the investigation.
The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court in Riverside, seeks damages for violations of the plaintiffs’ Constitutional protections against excessive force, unlawful detention and unreasonable search and seizure.
Further, the lawsuit alleges, the search warrants are based on false information from health insurance company Health Net Inc., which has been embroiled in a lengthy legal dispute with the treatment system over tens of millions of dollars in unpaid bills.
At issue are a series of raids on June 13, 2017, at healthcare facilities in Palm Desert, Culver City and San Clemente.
Heavily armed federal agents kicked down doors and – with guns drawn – screamed commands and obscenities at terrified patients and staff while they searched for financial records.
One of the plaintiffs is Christine Williams, a 56-year-old counselor who suffered severe injuries to both knees during a raid at Puerta Del Sol in San Clemente.
Ms. Williams said she pleaded with an armed FBI agent during the raid that she could not comply with his command to get on her knees because she had just had knee surgery. The agent forced her to kneel against her will, causing serious injuries to her knees, the lawsuit alleged.
Another employee, an internationally renowned research psychologist, was ordered out of her home and interrogated on her front lawn – in full view of her neighbors and passersby.
Agents falsely warned patients that the facilities would be closed down. Many of the facilities’ patients checked out as a result, abruptly ending their treatment, and subsequently relapsed into addiction, the lawsuit said. In some cases, agents handed out flyers for competing substance abuse treatment centers and encouraged patients to leave Sovereign Health facilities.
Agents seized numerous documents that were clearly irrelevant to the investigation, and many that the search warrants did not authorize them to take, including privileged legal documents from the offices of Sovereign Health’s attorneys. At the same time, agents illegally detained employees and forced them to submit to interrogations, while Sovereign’s general counsel was locked in a conference room and prevented from advising staff or observing the searches
The search warrants were severely flawed, the lawsuit said. As the government has not disputed, the warrants are based in large part on information provided by Health Net, which is under investigation by the Department of Justice and has been in litigation with Sovereign Health for more than one year because of the insurer’s refusal to cover mental illness and substance abuse treatment for patients with medical need for those services.
“A search warrant is not a license to pillage. This was a classic case of overkill by federal agencies seeking to make headlines at the expense of vulnerable patients and their caretakers,” said Haroon Ahmad, a spokesman for Sovereign Health. “What’s even more troubling is the search warrants appear to be based on allegations from a health insurer that is itself under investigation and has been accused of failing to pay millions of dollars for care these clinics provided to their insured patients.”
Further, the search warrants sought evidence of alleged violations of federal anti-kickback statute, even though Sovereign does not participate in a federal health care program covered by the statute.
Instead of following customary protocol of serving subpoenas to force the companies to compile and produce the records, the federal law enforcement agencies – which have admitted in court that their investigation is in its “infancy” – opted to storm into facilities treating vulnerable patients diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia and other significant mental health illnesses.
In some instances, agents kicked down doors, or broke through them with battering rams while staff members and patients watched in terror.
“There was no reasonable basis for the agents to believe their brazen tactics were an acceptable means of obtaining evidence regarding allegations of nonviolent, white-collar offenses,” the lawsuit said.
About Sovereign Health
Sovereign Health has qualified for the Joint Commission’s Gold Seal accreditation and consistently ranks as a top provider of behavioral health services, according to the independent eBasis report from McLean Hospital, a Harvard Medical School affiliate. In McLean’s quarterly reports for 2016, Sovereign has surpassed 50 other treatment centers nationwide in several important health care measures.
Sovereign Health’s facilities are licensed in accordance with state regulations. The Joint Commission is the nation’s leading health care standards-setting and accrediting organization, and sets a very high bar for qualifying for the Gold Seal designation. Sovereign’s extensive national network of nine facilities across five states also enjoys the distinction of being accredited to provide concurrent mental health and substance use treatment, a rarity in the field.
Sovereign Health’s mission is to provide a broad spectrum of high-quality behavioral health treatment services for adults and adolescents, including support services for family members. One factor that differentiates Sovereign from other treatment providers has been the company’s ability to offer separate mental health and addiction or dual diagnosis treatment programs at its facilities. For more information, visit www.sovhealth.com.
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