"MENTAL HEALTH CRISIS: Held Hostage & Abused in Texas Hospitals"



What began in 2013 as a single news report about a young patient who said a nurse slammed his fingers in the hospital door evolved into a nearly six-year investigative series.  We dug into complaints of violence, abuse, neglect, threats, and patients “held hostage” at mental health hospitals.

Each time we went to air we were stunned at the number of viewers with similar complaints. Hundreds of people contacted us.  We obtained thousands of pages of state and federal inspections and documents through open records requests.  We used undercover cameras to capture complaints inside the facilities. Former employees provided horrific details about what was happening behind closed doors. Mental health advocates, state legislators and local investigators called us to learn more.

To meet the criteria of this award entry, you will see the stories, which aired in 2018. They highlight the results of our reporting. 

For background, here is a brief look at some of our other reports:

(April 2013)   A six-year-old little boy with autism needs help. Mom takes him to a hospital where his fingers are slammed in a door, his lip is busted, and a nurse allegedly threatens him with a needle for bad behavior. 

(May 2013)  The hospital fires a nurse after she admits to threatening a patient with a needle.

(November 2016)   We bring parents and patients together for a panel discussion about their experiences. We go undercover to discuss the complaints with hospital officials. Police records show officers are called to the facilities almost every day.

(April 2017)   After seeing our reports, a state representative proposes two bills (1)to make inspections of hospitals public which we had only been able to obtain through open records requests and (2)to provide a state ombudsman to help people at these facilities.

(May 2017)   “It’s a miracle I’m alive,” says a former suicidal patient suffering from brain damage after being left alone long enough to tie a sheet around her neck and hang herself inside the hospital. A former employee speaks out confirming the complaints. A mental health advocate calls the state records we have obtained “alarming.”

(October 2017) - A desperate mother calls our newsroom because administrators are holding her child against her will.  We go undercover for days watching an attorney fight to get the young girl released. The hospital cites a state law which it claims allows it to hold a patient.

(November 2017)-We take a closer look at this law. Patients claiming they are being “held hostage” is the number one complaint we are receiving. Mental health advocates tell us the hospitals are abusing the law.

In 2018, our stories exposed a suicide at one of the facilities. We pressured state and federal authorities for answers and oversight. We questioned why the Joint Commission continued to accredit agencies with so many cited deficiencies and substantiated complaints.. And, we finally began seeing results. Late in the year, the Tarrant County Grand Jury indicted the hospitals for holding patients involuntarily and illegally. The District Attorney also cited many of the other safety issues we had spent years reporting. In late December, the state of Texas forced the hospitals to close their doors. 

As a news organization, we devoted time and resources to this effort knowing it is our journalistic obligation to hold facilities such as this responsible. It is often challenging for a local news organization to continue to provide airtime, resources and promotion to ongoing series, but this was a priority for nearly six years. 

Our management is fully supportive of our investigative endeavor continuing as more charges are expected.  This series is not over, but the North Texas mental health population is safer because of the social injustice we exposed. Now, the eyes of federal, state and local authorities remain on mental health facilities in North Texas. 

For these reasons, we proudly submit this series to the esteemed Headliners Foundation Award for Enterprise & Innovation in Journalism.

LINK to content online

Submitted by Ginger Allen.