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DCF reviews three deaths at GEO-run psychiatric facility

Over medication and improper supervision may have caused the deaths of three patients at a privately run mental health facility in Florida last year.  That’s what a recently completed investigation by the Florida Department of Children and Families revealed when it looked into GEO Care’s South Florida State hospital.

Within just a few months last year, three patients died unnaturally in the care of the GEO Care psychiatric facility, South Florida State Hospital. Florida Department of Children and Families Spokeswoman Erin Gillespie says failing to report the incidents to the state’s abuse hotline is what launched the investigation:

“They reported the deaths to the Department of Children and Families because we contract with them to run the facility. But, that is not the same thing as reporting them to the state abuse hotline, which is in statute," said Gillespie. "By law, if there is an incident like this, it has to be reported to the hotline for investigation. So, they have been re-trained on how to report abuse to the hotline.”

The alleged abuse included one woman who allegedly had her head slammed in a wall and one man who died in a tub full of scalding hot water, because staff failed to check on him every 15 minutes as required….both dead between the months of June and August 2011.

“Of course, we have deaths at these facilities all the time, because of natural causes, these people are not well. But, three deaths in a short period of time where it seemed there was a lapse in supervision is what prompted the review,” said Gillespie.

In another instance, a 50-year-old man with a history of suicide jumped to his death from the eighth story of a parking garage because he was without proper supervision.

Gillespie says with the review completed, they are now re-negotiating a contract with GEO, and included is their own Department investigator added to the facility and more training among the staff.

“It’s a difficult setting, you know, these patients have problems, and very in-depth medical care and so, because of the nature of their psychological problems, you have to have specially trained folks there and that’s what we worked with them on to make sure their all of their procedures were top of the line and they would be able to better work with the populations that they’re serving there,” said Gillespie.

Gillespie adds if GEO fails to report these incidents again, her agency will levy a financial penalty.

In a statement, a GEO Spokesman says the incidents are in no way indicative, or a reflection, of the “high quality operation that exists through the public-private partnership between GEO Care and the Florida Department of Children and Families.”

In addition to South Florida State Hospital, GEO Care also has three other mental health treatment facilities under its care.

Sascha Cordner has more than ten years of public radio experience. It includes working at NPR member station WUFT-FM in Gainesville for several years. She's worked in both radio and TV, serving in various capacities as a reporter, producer and anchor. She's also a graduate of the University of Florida with a bachelor's degree in telecommunications. She is the recipient of 15 awards from the Associated Press, Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), and Edward R. Murrow. Her award-winning stories include her coverage on the infamous “Dozier School for Boys” and a feature titled "Male Breast Cancer: Lost in the Sea of Pink." Currently, Sascha serves as the host and producer of local and state news content for the afternoon news program "All Things Considered" at WFSU. Sascha primarily covers criminal justice and social services issues. When she's not reporting, Sascha likes catching up on her favorite TV shows, singing and reading. Follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter:@SaschaCordner.