Healthcare News

Rights group suing ranch: Advocates want to freely question patients

By MARK REAGAN, Staff Writer, THE BROWNSVILLE HERALD

A first-of-its-kind mental health jail diversion program between Cameron County and a private healthcare group is the subject of a federal lawsuit a little more than four months after receiving its first residents.

Disability Rights Texas filed the lawsuit against Inspired Behavioral Health, the parent company of Inspired at La Jarra Ranch, and its President and Chief Executive Officer Brandy K. Leonhardt, on Jan. 8, alleging the private healthcare company is resisting its efforts to investigate a complaint of possible abuse or neglect of a resident.

The Inspired at Jarra Ranch facility in Raymondville received its first five residents in early August as part of an agreement between Cameron County and Inspired Behavioral Health in an effort to curtail the number of people with mental illness who typically only receive mental health needs while incarcerated. The county pays $55 for each patient’s first month of residence and staff at Inspired La Jarra Ranch help patients apply for social security benefits so they can stay for treatment as long as needed beyond when they have completed the conditions of their personal recognizance bond.

Disability Rights Texas is a state protection and advocacy organization designated by then-Governor Dolph Briscoe in 1977. Throughout the years, the organization says its mandate has grown with the passage of laws expanding the rights and services for people with disabilities. Disability Rights Texas is the result of Congressional legislation in 1975 that designated an organization in each state to protect and advocate for the rights of people with disabilities following a media investigation of a New York State institution for children with mental disabilities that exposed deplorable conditions and inhumane treatment of residents at the government-run institution, according to Disability Rights Texas.

In its lawsuit against Inspired Behavioral Health, Disability Rights Texas accuses the company of barring it from accessing La Jarra Ranch, its residents, its staff and resident records it requested.

A representative with Disability Rights Texas did not respond to a request for comment or elaboration on its investigation into possible neglect or abuse of a resident at La Jarra Ranch.

Leonhardt, the president and CEO, said Inspired Behavioral Health has not seen the allegations levied in the lawsuit.

“We have not seen any of these accusations and we cannot comment on that,” Leonhardt said. “We have obligations of privacy to our residents and I am very certain we have done nothing wrong.”

In the lawsuit, Disability Rights Texas said that in October, it received several complaints from concerned family members regarding the failure of La Jarra Ranch to provide necessary treatment to residents.

On Oct. 17, the organization contacted Inspired Behavioral Health through written notice that it intended to access La Jarra Ranch to investigate a complaint received by the organization regarding possible abuse or neglect of one of La Jarra Ranch’s mental health residents, which included its intent to speak with other residents who might have a complaint but did not know how to contact Disability Rights Texas.

Inspired Behavioral Health granted access to Disability Rights Texas on Oct. 19 and the organization initiated its investigation and conducted a monitoring visit, including conversations with six of the nine residents at La Jarra Ranch, according to the lawsuit.

“These residents spoke with (Disability Rights Texas) of their own free will and with prior notice that each could decline to speak with (Disability Rights Texas) staff,” the lawsuit states. “In fact, at least two of the residents declined to speak with (Disability Rights Texas) staff.”

According to Disability Rights Texas, it received information indicating possible rights violations by Inspired Behavioral Health.

“However, most if not all of the residents expressed fear of retaliation if they complained and/or spoke openly with (Disability Rights Texas) staff,” the lawsuit states. “They feared Defendant would retaliate by sending them back to jail, labeling the residents unwilling or unable to complete the program.”

On Oct. 30, Disability Rights Texas informed Inspired Behavioral Health that it would be conducting a second monitoring visit. The next day, Inspired Behavioral Health’s attorney sent an email to the organization denying it access and forbidding it from speaking to Inspired at La Jarra Ranch’s residents, according to the lawsuit.

Weeks later, Disability Rights Texas sent an email to Inspired Behavioral Health’s attorney requesting resident records for two residents, including copies of medical, mental healthcare and treatment records, according to the lawsuit, which states the request included the individuals’ written authorization to Disability Rights Texas for release of the information.

According to the lawsuit, Inspired Behavioral Health has not responded to that request to date.

Disability Rights Texas alleges in the litigation that Inspired Behavioral Health’s failure to permit its investigation violates the Protection and Advocacy for Mentally Ill Individuals Act, the Developmental Disabilities Assistance and Bill of Rights Act and the Protection and Advocacy for Individual Rights Act.

Disability Rights Texas is asking a judge to order Inspired Behavioral Health to provide access to Inspired at La Jarra Ranch, its staff and its residents “in order to monitor the facility, to conduct abuse and neglect investigations of the facility and its residents, and to provide information and training to residents at any reasonable time, including but not limited to during business and visiting hours.”

mreagan@brownsvilleherald.com

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