Arkansas Doctor Under Investigation For Allegedly Holding 26 Patients Against Their Will In Medicaid Scam

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A top psychiatrist in Arkansas has been under investigation since May after 26 patients filed a lawsuit claiming he held them in a psychiatric unit against their will in an alleged Medicaid scam, according to NBC News.

Dr. Brian Hyatt, one of the most prominent psychiatrists in Arkansas, is under investigation by state and federal officials following allegations of Medicaid fraud and false imprisonment, NBC News reported Sunday. The allegations stem from 26 patients who claim Hyatt held them against their will for days, sometimes weeks, in what Arkansas Attorney General Tim Griffin’s office described as an insurance scam, according to the outlet.

Arkansas mental health patients can be held against their will for 72 hours if authorities consider them a danger to themselves or others. In order to hold patients for longer than 72 hours, a medical provider must file a court petition and get permission from a judge, according to NBC.

One alleged patient, 32-year-old William VanWhy, checked himself into Hyatt’s mental health unit at Northwest Medical Center in 2022 after feeling emotionally overwhelmed, the outlet reported. Four days later, VanWhy was ready to leave but was allegedly still stuck in the unit. “I was not receiving any medical care at all,” he told NBC. A court order obtained by his partner finally managed to secure Van Why’s release, according to the outlet.

Attorney General Griffin’s office alleged Hyatt would claim to treat patients he rarely saw and then bill Medicaid at “the highest severity code on every patient,” despite “never [having] even a single conversation with the vast majority of patients under his care,” NBC reported, citing the affidavit.

Investigators reviewing security footage from the mental health unit over a period of 45 days reportedly observed Hyatt entering a patient’s room 17 times, with each interaction lasting less than 10 minutes, according to NBC. Those observations were supported by testimony from a former staff member, who told investigators in April 2022 Hyatt was only on the floor for a “few minutes each day” and that he had “no contact with patients,” NBC reported.

“I think that they were running a scheme to hold people as long as possible, to bill their insurance as long as possible before kicking them out the door, and then filling the bed with someone else,” VanWhy’s lawyer Aaron Cash said, according to the outlet.

Another alleged patient, 52-year-old Shannon Williams, said she found herself reeling from the back-to-back deaths of her grandmother and brother. Upon arriving at Hyatt’s unit, Williams said she was injected with a sedative and held for five days despite requests to be released, according to NBC. “It was as if I was in a prison,” Williams told the outlet. “It was like a nightmare. If I cried, then I was again threatened with more time.”

From January 2019 to June 2022, Hyatt’s facility collected more than $800,000 in Medicaid payments with 99.95% of the claims coming in at the most expensive code, NBC reported, citing the affidavit. While it is not unusual for newly admitted patients to come in at the highest severity code, it usually progresses to a lower code prior to the patients’ release, according to the outlet. (RELATED: Medicaid Scam In Michigan Takes $29 Million From Taxpayers)

“According to the claims submitted by Dr. Hyatt and the non-physician providers working under his supervision, no patient being treated in the behavioral unit located at Northwest Medical Center ever got better, at least not before the day of the patient’s release,” NBC reported, citing the affidavit.  The claims were so high, “they [skewed] the averages on certain codes for the entire Medicaid program in Arkansas,” the affidavit continued.

Hyatt resigned from the Arkansas State Medical Board in May 2023, maintaining the allegations against him were false. “Despite his career as an outstanding clinician, Dr. Hyatt has become the target of a vicious, orchestrated attack on his character and service. He looks forward to defending himself in court,” Hyatt’s legal team said in a statement cited by NBC.