Sunday, February 10, 2019

How a Facebook chat convinced me to get VPN access...

As I write this, my husband is probably taxiing to the gate at the Frankfurt Airport.  He's been gone all week, and I've been filling my time with whatever I can.  I was completely sober all week, although I was feeling tempted to drink last night, mainly because I was bored.  I decided I'd rather not indulge, so I wouldn't wake up parched and achy.  Instead, I watched more movies, including Small Sacrifices, which killed about three hours, The Ryan White Story, Right to Kill, and Catherine: An Anorexic's Tale.  I also watched the premiere episode of Glee, which aired when we lived in Germany the first time.

I was able to watch Glee and The Ryan White Story because I decided to purchase access to a VPN, and that gave me access to American Netflix.  I decided to get the VPN because I'm tired of dealing with geographical restrictions on news stories.  I like to keep up with what's going on at home.  Unfortunately, the paper I grew up reading, Daily Press, is behind in complying with the privacy laws of Europe.  Consequently, whenever I want to read something on their Web site, I get a message that the content isn't available in my location.

I used to have a VPN account.  I got it when we first moved back to Stuttgart in 2014, mainly so I could watch Netflix.  But then Netflix started cracking down on VPNs and German Netflix was offering some pretty good shows, anyway.  I cancelled the VPN and mostly didn't miss it.  What prompted me to get a new account with a different company was a conversation I had on Facebook.

A couple of days ago, I wrote a post about all of the made for TV movies I've been watching this week.  One movie I watched was called Without Consent.  It starred a young Jennie Garth, and was about a privately owned psychiatric hospital for teenagers that basically abused them for insurance money.  I mentioned in my post that this was a big issue in the late 1980s and early 90s.  Psych care for "troubled teens" was a very big business in those days.  It probably still is, but I will admit that I don't follow that issue as much as I used to.

One of my friends mentioned that she had spent time in one of those facilities.  I got the impression that maybe my description of the movie, Without Consent, had offended her.  I had intended the post to be kind of silly and fun, but you never know how you'll come across, particularly to people who are sensitive to an issue.

Anyway, as we were chatting, I mentioned Charter Colonial Institute, which was a private psychiatric hospital in Newport News, Virginia.  I grew up not far from Newport News, and I knew of a few of my peers who went there.  It always had kind of a mystique about it.  Sometimes, when I worked at Busch Gardens in James City County, Virginia, I'd take a route to work that caused me to pass that hospital.  I knew its tree lined campus was secure, located very close to Warwick Boulevard and the river.  Charter was such a ubiquitous company in those days; young people would simply speak of "going to Charter" and people would know what they were talking about.


A vintage ad for one of Charter's many private psychiatric hospitals.  Charter Colonial Institute aired similar ones in my area back in the 80s.

Several years later, Charter's burgeoning business began to falter.  The hospital changed hands and it was known as Colonial Hospital for a few years.  Then Colonial Hospital went away... and for the past few years, that same "secure" building has been known as Newport News Behavioral Health Center, which is a privately run facility.  I was curious to learn more about what was going on there, so I started searching.  I ran across a couple of news articles from the Daily Press.  Of course, they were blocked in Germany, so I used the cell access on my iPad to start reading, which makes it look like I'm in New York.  But then I ran out of free articles...

I found some news about a young woman named Raven Nichole Keffer.  She was seventeen years old last June, when she arrived in Newport News for treatment for an addiction to heroin.  Born in Montgomery County, Virginia back in 2001, and in the custody of rural Giles County, she had recently spent time in Arlington, Virginia getting treatment for her drug problems before she was sent to Newport News.  For at least a week, she'd complained of feeling sick, but the staff evidently ignored her symptoms and complaints.  Keffer had trouble walking, breathing, and eating.  She even vomited blood at one point.  Still, for some reason, the staff at the center did nothing for her, and she apparently languished for just over a week before someone finally did something.  It came out later that some staff members felt Raven was drug seeking, and that's why they didn't call for help. 

On June 29th, 2018, Keffer collapsed at Newport News Behavioral Health Center.  An ambulance was called, and Keffer was taken to Bon Secours Mary Immaculate Hospital in Newport News.  It was there that she died a few hours later, officially at 10:33pm.  A staff member at the center mentioned to one of the first responders who had picked up Raven that she'd been sick all week and nothing had been done for her.

After I read about Raven in the Daily Press, I found a more detailed account on WAVY TV 10's Web site.  That site was also blocked for me in Europe, but thanks to the VPN, I was able to hear her family members speak on video about what had happened.  To add insult to injury, Raven's body was cremated about ten days after she'd died.  Her family was notified after the fact.

In October of 2018, investigators determined that staff members at Newport News Behavioral Health Center violated 13 state regulations in Raven Keffer's case.  From the beginning, it appears that her even being at the center was inappropriate.  Raven Keffer had been recently hospitalized before she was admitted to the Newport News Behavioral Health Center and, according to its own admissions guidelines, Keffer should not have been admitted there.  The center's admissions policy states that it doesn't "accept patients who are addicted to drugs and need medical care for detoxing".

Officially, Raven Keffer died of natural causes stemming from complications from lymphocytic adrenalitis, an auto-immune disorder that affects glands that produce adrenaline.  But she also had a serious heroin addiction that had required her to seek hospital care just prior to her admission to the center in Newport News.  Discharge instructions from the hospital where she'd been on June 13th indicated that she would need a follow up visit and perhaps surgery.  However, it's clear that no one in Newport News did anything to arrange follow up care for Raven.  Her initial admissions paperwork was never even completed; there were several items left blank.

Video surveillance footage shows Raven being helped to see a nurse practitioner.  She had a registered nurse and a fellow patient supporting her, since she couldn't walk unaided.  Once they reached the nurse practitioner's office, the nurse walked away, leaving Raven to lean on the patient.  The nurse later left the unit and the other patient was shown on video dragging Raven across the room on a comforter.

In the wake of this fiasco, there's been re-training at the center.  The nurse who abandoned Raven has been fired.  However, in November of 2018, the Newport News Behavioral Health Center was in the news again.  This time, it was because Child Protective Services in Newport News reported that a juvenile male at the facility was assaulted by a staff member.  The employee allegedly "punched the patient about the face, pushed him, and grabbed him".  Other staff members tried to intervene and the patient was treated for injuries.  CPS noted that he had bruises on his face and marks on his neck and on an arm.

According to the news articles I've read, Paul Kirkham is the CEO of Newport News Behavioral Health Center.  I'm sure that his job isn't easy, as teenagers in trouble are not an easy population.  However, if I were him, I'd be sweating bullets.  It really appears that extreme negligence is a problem at his facility.

Managed care is one reason why private psychiatric hospitals have gone down the tubes.  In the 80s, psychiatric medications were not as good as they are today.  Nowadays, many people who would have been hospitalized years ago can be treated outpatient.  You have to be pretty sick to wind up in a hospital, for any reason.  Managed care also pays less for fewer days.  But Charter's woes also came about due to a public relations situation.  In 1999, an unflattering news report was aired regarding Charter's business practices.  Terrance Johnson had a master's degree in social work, but he took a job as a mental health technician.  While he was on the job, he wore a tiny camera, which recorded everything going on as he worked at his $8.35 per hour position.  People were paying thousands of dollars a day for "treatment", but they were being watched over by "big guys".  Really, being "big" was the number one qualification for the job.  Johnson's size was more of a prerequisite for being a mental health technician than his MSW was.

I'm not sure if what Terrance Johnson encountered at a Charter hospital is still how these kinds of facilities are run.  I have read a few horror stories.  But it does sound like at least at one former Charter hospital, it's business as usual.  My heart goes out to Raven Keffer's family and anyone else who has suffered at one of these places.  And now that I have a VPN, I can read all about it.