HEADLINES

New Mental Health Facility Owners Have Checkered past

 

According to LoHud.com, The chief operating officer of a Putnam County-based mental health facility that the state of New York is closing due to numerous violations has received preliminary approval to open a treatment facility in nearby Danbury, Conn.

David J. Palmer, COO for SLS Residential Inc., also known as Supervised LifeStyles, was approved in August for a certificate of need by the Connecticut Department of Public Health to open an out-patient psychiatric clinic and a substance-abuse facility at 2 Glen Hill Road. He will still need to obtain two licenses from the health department.

Palmer submitted the application on behalf of Blue Sky Behavioral Health LLC. Its address is listed as his New Milford, Conn., home. It’s the second attempt by Blue Sky to open a Connecticut facility after it withdrew plans last year for a treatment center near the historic Litchfield Green.

In the application, Palmer said he and Dr. Joseph Santoro, an owner of SLS, will be the principal owners of Blue Sky.

While Palmer referred often to SLS in the application process, he made no mention of its ongoing five-year battle with the New York State Office of Mental Health, which revoked the for-profit company’s operating certificates because it violated patients’ rights and ignored state regulations.

OMH ordered the 25-year-old company, which treats teens and adolescents with substance-abuse and behavioral issues, to move its patients to other facilities by year’s end.

“SLS no longer has a valid OMH operating certificate; however, OMH will allow SLS to continue operation for the sole purpose of facilitating appropriate discharge planning for current residents,” OMH spokesman Michael Seereiter said in an e-mail. “SLS is in the process of meeting individually with residents to facilitate discharges to other programs and has until December 31, 2011 to complete this process. The Mental Hygiene Legal Service is meeting separately with SLS residents to ensure that proper discharges and placements are made.”

Seereiter said SLS continues to seek legal relief, including a recent failed attempt to obtain a temporary restraining order to block revocation of its permits.

 

The OMH first found violations in November 2006 at two residential treatment facilities SLS ran in Southeast and fined the company $80,000 — $10,000 per violation. Inspectors returned three weeks later and found three more violations, resulting in $30,000 in fines for a total of $110,000.

Among the violations were that SLS limited residents’ contact with people outside the facility, violated their privacy by watching as they used a bathroom, punished residents unfairly and failed to conduct incident reviews as required by state law. The state also alleged SLS illegally restrained patients but a court later dismissed that charge.

After years of appeals, SLS lost its battle to stay open in November when the Appellate Division of the state Supreme Court, Second Department, upheld a ruling by the OMH commissioner to revoke its permits.

Although Blue Sky’s Danbury application for a certificate of need was approved in August, the company faces a second application process, Connecticut health department spokesman William Gerrish said.

Blue Sky will need to obtain one license to run a psychiatric outpatient clinic for adults and another for a facility for the care and treatment of drug-abusing or drug-dependent people, Gerrish said. That part of the application process is run by the health department’s Facility Licensing and Inspection Section, he said.

As of Friday, Blue Sky has not submitted a completed application to FLIS. That part of the process will involve Connecticut officials looking into the history of SLS, including its battle with New York, he said.

Messages left with Palmer were not returned. A woman who answered the phone at his home Thursday and identified herself as his wife said he is no longer affiliated with SLS, then cursed at a reporter before hanging up.

Pleasantville resident Glen Feinberg, an attorney who alleged his son received abusive treatment while an SLS patient, suggested Blue Sky may have difficulty getting Connecticut licenses.

“The facts about SLS’ operators have been established by OMH and upheld by the courts. Connecticut surely has the same concern for its residents as New York and will act accordingly,” he wrote in an e-mail.

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