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I-Team Investigation: Kids In Crisis

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GARLAND (CBS11 I-TEAM) - Violence, abuse, threats with needles...this is what dozens of families said happened in a North Texas mental facility.

The parents and teens all met at Sundance Hospital in Garland. Their teenagers were getting treated for overdoses, suicide attempts or mental struggles, but, instead, they said, their children got mistreated.

16-year-old Aimee Isfalt said she spent two nights in Sundance Hospital in Garland after trying to take her own life. She says she was scared of "the workers hurting us...the patients hurting us."

Isfalt said the staff allowed patients to fight and threaten each other, and she said, the staff threatened them.

"They tried to give me something called bootie juice. That's what the patients call it. It's a sedative. They put in your butt as a needle and you are supposed to go to sleep," said Isfalt.

More former patients and their parents came together in our CBS11 studios sharing similar stories.

"We called it bootie juice. We got threatened with it if we stood up for each other, " said Brianna Farley. Farley also spent time at Sundance Hospital.

Kyle Baird was there at the same time. He says he was also threatened with a shot, and he said he got hit in the face by another patient more than once.

"The first time I got hit was trying to ward off a fight, " explained Baird.

The teenagers told CBS11 they rarely, or ever, saw doctors, had little supervision and spent days in their hot rooms without therapy.

One young girl who did not want her identity revealed said, "I felt like anything could happen and the staff couldn't do anything."

Her parents filed a police report after they found out she had been attacked by another patient.

"She is hysterically crying she was punched in the head and she needed to come home, " said Raquel Peterson explaining what her daughter said the day she called home.

Her father fought back tears remembering how scared his daughter was. "I felt like I failed her by putting her in there," said Chris Peterson.

The I-Team learned the Garland Police Department has been called to the mental facility almost every single day this year. Some days, according to police reports, officers have been called there more than once. The reports show calls for assaults, disturbances, concerns for welfare and a missing person.

Sandra Herrera said she's lucky a missing person call wasn't for her son. She said she was the only one watching the day she found her son in the lobby alone. He was there on suicide watch.

"The first thing I said was, 'What are you doing up here?' He said, 'They let me out,' " said Herrera crying as she explained that she was afraid her son could have escaped.

The I-Team went to Sundance Hospital looking for answers. A nurse and director came to the lobby to speak to to CBS11.

The nurse said, "We don't threaten anyone with injections if they misbehave."

We asked her about the complaints. "... a lot of this was based on some false information. ...We went back and reviewed all the cameras and some of the information was not true."

The I-Team asked to see the video and other patient satisfaction forms, but they said they couldn't show them.

The I-Team explained that it had received many complaints from former patients and family members.

The director told the I-Team, "You are dealing with a 'special population.' "

The nurse said, "...a 'special population!'"

The I-Team also asked if the facility had had any complaints or substantiated complaints.

The director repeatedly said, "No!"

However, the I-Team has learned since January 2015, the state has received 35 complaints. The state said 13 of those are substantiated. They involve Sundance facilities in Garland, Arlington and Fort Worth.

Documents reveal investigations into an unsupervised "patient slumped in the shower with a plastic bag over her head and tied around her neck."

Another patient is found "unresponsive...with a sheet tied around her neck"

More than 50 deficiencies are cited including lack of safety, supervision, staff and treatment plans.

Restraints without physicians' orders, sanitation issues, outdated food and medicine carts left out in the open are among other standards the state cites as not met.

Sundance Hospital responded to each with correction plans according to the documents.

But the I-Team learned the hospital was also penalized earlier this year. Documents show the Texas Department of State Health Services fined Sundance $50,000 for violations. In August, the state and Sundance settled for $28,500.

The supervisors the I-Team talked to said they were not there when those violations took place.

When they realized CBS11 cameras were rolling as they talked, they stopped responding.

Senior Investigative Reporter Ginger Allen repeatedly said, "We would love to discuss this case with you. Will you contact us?"

The I-Team was asked to leave.

"You need to leave. You need to leave now, " said the nurse.


The Texas Department of State Health Services provided the I-Team the following information:

"Someone trying to find mental health services should contact the local mental health authority that serves their area.  They can call directly or dial 2-1-1 from anywhere in the state. ...The only mental health facilities we regulate are private psychiatric hospitals and crisis stabilization units. The law makes hospital complaints and investigations confidential, though any enforcement action we take (e.g., fines or suspending a license) is public. We post enforcement action for the past year here.

There are also residential treatment centers regulated by the Department of Family and Protective Services as residential child care. They treat mental health and/or substance abuse but are not as intensive as hospitalization. People can search them here and find information about inspections and violations."

Another resource recommended to the I-Team for our investigation was the hospital inspection site operated by The Association of Health Care Journalists and contains information gathered by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

(©2016 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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