More than 2,000 people arrive each year at Florida’s North Tampa Behavioral Health in crisis. They are checked in under a state law that lets mental health centers keep people who might hurt themselves or others for up to 72 hours. When that time is over, some patients find themselves held captive by the place that is supposed to protect them, reports the Tampa Bay Times. A psychologist threatened to commit one patient a second time if she didn’t volunteer to stay longer. Another patient hired a lawyer to help him get out but couldn’t for a week because the hospital did not send his paperwork to a judge.
A Tampa Bay Times investigation found that the psychiatric hospital makes huge profits by exploiting patients held under Florida’s mental health law, known as the Baker Act. The hospital illegally cuts patients off from their families. Then it uses loopholes in the statute to hold them longer than allowed, running up their bills while they are powerless to fight back. The Times analyzed thousands of hospital admission records and reviewed hundreds of police reports, state inspections, court records and financial filings. The documents — and interviews with 15 patients and their families or advocates — show the hospital uses a variety of tactics to keep patients beyond 72 hours. Some are tricked into thinking they’ve waived their right to leave. Others are forced to wait for court hearings that never happen. The hospital’s CEO said he “strongly rejects any claim that it deliberately or willfully holds patients against their will absent a legitimate, clinically based determination,” adding that decisions to extend stays are never “driven by financial motivations and/or any type of nefarious intent.”