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The Daily Wildcat

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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Column: Sierra Tucson rehabilitation center prioritizes profit over patient care

If you have a problem, an addiction, depression or a disorder, if you admit that the situation is real and will seek professional while help holding onto hope for the future, and you don’t have a death wish, then steer clear of Sierra Tucson.

Since January 2015 the Sierra Tucson rehabilitation center has seen five suicides in seven years.

According to the Arizona Daily Star, Tucson Sentinel and 4-Traders, in January 2014, a patient suffering from anxiety and depression hanged himself by the showerhead with a shoelace; April 2014, a patient with a drug addiction died of acute drug toxicity; and in January 2015, a patient suffering from depression hanged himself with a belt.

In all these cases, painfully obvious warnings sirens blared, but staff failed to protect these patients and their families from more pain.

In the case of the most recent 55-year-old patient, the man was reported missing for the majority of his scheduled activities leading up to his death around 1 p.m. Out of all of the staff members who went to check on him—required if a patient is more than 15 minutes late for an activity—none of them actually saw him. One spoke to him from behind a bathroom door in the morning, one checked the room to find no one at 10 a.m. and the same staffer later partially opened the door and called out around noon.

The Daily Star, Tucson Sentinel and 4-Traders all reported that staffers were confused at whose responsibility it is to check on patients. The answer to that question: everyone.

In a facility that’s considered a place for the rich as it charges patients $1,300 per day, hiring and training staff to properly handle depressed patients—beyond an online training seminar the facility conducted in 2012—should be their top priority.

But what can anyone expect from a facility that prioritizes profit over patient?

In 1983, recovering cocaine addict Bill O’Donnell Jr. founded the Sierra Tucson facility. The center merged with NextHealth Inc. in 2002, and was later bought by a California-based CRC in 2005. Following a one-year grace period, Sierra Tucson was bought out by Bain Capital which proceeded to replace the main administrators, who were largely health professionals from in-state, with out-of-state, less experienced staff.

Following these events, accusations have been made accusing Sierra Tucson of placing high risk patients into the lower level care centers while continuing to charge the highest rates.

What’s even more disturbing is finding that many staffers in the suicide cases were acutely aware of risky and suicidal behavior in their patients.

In a March 2007 suicide, a 34-year-old man died in front of unresponsive staff members, according to Tucson Sentinel. A former employee reported that the patient often would pretend to drown and only stop when a staff member would jump in to help.

Those instances should have been the perfect sign to not only keep this patient away from the pool, but also to give the patient immediate psychiatric attention. An adult faking a drowning is like a child’s efforts to get attention. It was an obvious cry for help that no one responded to because the staffers were not trained to understand this danger or were somehow not paid enough to care. confirms that drug and/or alcohol addiction has over a 50 percent chance of resulting in depression and a 25 percent chance of suicide, a fact that should be understood by the masses by the 21st century. Why Sierra Tucson has not gotten the hint that helping a depressed patient is far more important than the profit they gain from sucking the money out of these same patients is beyond understanding.

Helping people such as those with dependence or depression is the same as a restaurant giving excellent customer service, in that it brings in good reviews, more people and revenue.

Most importantly, it save lives.

Follow Ashleigh Horowitz on Twitter.

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