Tennessee's New Life Lodge is set to reopen this spring, despite pending medical malpractice and wrongful death lawsuits stemming from the deaths of three patients at the drug rehabilitation center in 2010.
The facility, once the largest rehab center in the Tennessee, was shut down by the state late last year following the deaths of those patients "within days of admission and/or discharge," as well as over concerns about its overall quality of medical care, according to the Tennessean.
In a notice sent to the Burns-based facility, officials with the Department of Mental Health cited six pages of findings of noncompliance with state safety standards, including failure to "have adequately trained staff to address medical, mental health and alcohol and drug needs of the varying populations” that it served.
One of the pending medical malpractice lawsuits involves a 29-year-old woman who had been at New Life Lodge for less than a month when she began exhibiting pneumonia-like symptoms. The woman became unresponsive during transport to a Nashville hospital and died the next day.
A separate investigation by the Department of Children's Services was launched following the death of a teenager who died about a week after leaving the center. The results of the investigation have been forwarded to lawyers for the department, who told the news agency they may decide to send them to the Dickson County Sheriff's Office for possible criminal action.
The third patient, a 20-year-old man, died two days after checking into the lodge.
A months-long investigation by the Tennessean last year not only uncovered the three deaths but found a reduced oversight of the residential treatment facility after the state stopped performing required quality inspections, that the medical license of the new head doctor at New Life had been on probation after he failed to pass a drug test and that staffers were steering patients to their own halfway houses that they were running as side businesses.
Gordon Bonnyman, executive director of the watchdog group the Tennessee Justice Center, told the news agency that although New Life Lodge will reopen in a limited capacity, he is still concerned about the state's overall ability to regulate similar facilities.
"What about the state agencies that are supposed to be minding the store and protecting the public – Department of Children’s Services, Department of Mental Health, Department of Health and the TennCare Bureau?" Bonnyman asked.
New Life, which once housed 228 patients, is set to reopen April 9 with a total of 70 beds.
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