Dallas mental hospital to close before state shuts it down

DALLAS (AP) -- A psychiatric hospital in Dallas says it is voluntarily closing its doors just after state officials threatened to shut down the aging treatment center because it was too dangerous for patients.

The CEO of Timberlawn Behavioral Health System, James Miller, wrote Thursday to staff saying the intention to close the facility comes after "completing a comprehensive, careful review." He told federal health officials the hospital is expected to close in February, the Dallas Morning News reported .

Miller said the hospital made the decision to close back in December, before the state threatened to confiscate its license and fine it $600,000. The hospital is appealing the sanctions.

He cited a decreased patient population and the cost to refurbish aging buildings on the campus as reasons for the closure. He also said management thinks Timberlawn has fixed its safety problems and now complies with federal regulations, though the results of a Jan. 10 government inspection aren't yet available.

Investigators found that in recent years the hospital has faced a series of safety issues. In 2014, a suicidal patient was left alone and killed herself. In 2015, a female patient reported she was raped by another patient. Last year, a teenager who was a victim of past sexual abuse reported another teen patient entered her hospital room and raped her.

The owner of Timberlawn, Universal Health Services Inc., operates a number of mental health facilities in the country and faces many government investigations. The company since 2012 has closed two residential treatment centers for adolescents that faced regulatory sanctions in Virginia and in Illinois.

A 2016 data analysis by the Dallas News found that more than a quarter of over 150 Universal Health hospitals were facing serious safety problems. A spokeswoman for the company did not respond to multiple requests for comment by the newspaper Thursday.

Colette Riel, the sister of the Timberlawn patient who died by suicide, said the hospital's closure means no one else will get hurt at the facility.

But the closure is just "a drop in the bucket," Riel said. "What about the parent company that owns all of these hospitals nationwide and their record and recklessness?"

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Information from: The Dallas Morning News, http://www.dallasnews.com