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Memorial Behavioral Health selling to company under federal investigation

Memorial Behavioral Health said in a news release Tuesday morning that it expects to close the sale in the first quarter of 2018 of its psychiatric hospital and outpatient mental-health clinics.
Memorial Behavioral Health said in a news release Tuesday morning that it expects to close the sale in the first quarter of 2018 of its psychiatric hospital and outpatient mental-health clinics. File

A company under a multi-agency federal investigation, Universal Health Services Inc., plans to buy Memorial Behavioral Health’s psychiatric hospital and two outpatient clinics.

The nation’s largest psychiatric hospital chain, Universal Health Services Inc., expects to buy Memorial Behavioral Health in the first quarter of 2018, a joint news release from UHC and Memorial said Tuesday.

UHS plans to continue operating a 109-bed inpatient facility on U.S. 49 and the two clinics, UHS public relations director Jane Crawford said.

Crawford also acknowledged the ongoing federal investigation.

In an email to the Sun Herald, she wrote: “For almost five years, UHS has consistently disclosed in our public filings the existence of certain investigations of UHS and a number of UHS subsidiary behavioral health facilities being conducted by the Office of the Inspector General for the Department of Health and Human Services, the U.S. Department of Justice and various state attorneys general.

“UHS takes these matters very seriously and is cooperating with all agencies involved. After almost five years of review, there has not been any negative formal findings of fact or law, government-initiated lawsuits, or charges filed.

“Investigations of this type are an unfortunate but common reality facing the healthcare provider industry.”

Buzzfeed News, a digital news website at buzzfeed.com, reported one year ago, after a year-long investigation, that UHS employees said they were pressured to fill beds “which sometimes meant exaggerating people’s symptoms or twisting their words to make them seem suicidal — and to hold them until their insurance payments ran out.”

UHS has denied any wrongdoing and emailed the Sun Herald a lengthy statement about the Buzzfeed coverage.

“UHS strongly disputes and denies the reporter’s conclusions, which heavily rely on anecdotal accounts from a small subset of former disgruntled employees and patients as well as isolated facility videos and other documents that fail to provide context or provide the reader with complete information,” the statement says, in part.

“BuzzFeed’s coverage badly misses the mark in several critical ways, and the result is a highly distorted view of UHS, our values, our operations and the way we serve our patients.”

UHS, which also operates acute-care hospitals, has three other psychiatric hospitals in Mississippi, Crawford told the Sun Herald.

Memorial CEO Gary Marchand said his hospital, owned by the city of Gulfport and Harrison County, is aware of the federal government’s investigation of UHS. He said UHS disclosed the investigation and denied any wrongdoing.

Marchand also mentioned the three UHS psychiatric hospitals in Mississippi and said the company operates more than 150 hospitals nationwide.

Marchand said he believes the sale will benefit Coast residents.

“UHS will offer child, adolescent, and adult behavioral health programs and plans to expand into substance use treatment programs,” he said in an email to the Sun Herald. “That’s good news for our community. Locally and on the national level, these programs are a crucial component of community health.”

Anita Lee: 228-896-2331, @calee99

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