Former NFL player not actually qualified to run hospital, feds find

Regulators also found widespread problems with patient care after a Tampa Bay Times investigation into the facility
North Tampa Behavioral Health in Wesley Chapel
North Tampa Behavioral Health in Wesley Chapel [ JOHN PENDYGRAFT | Times ]
Published Dec. 3, 2019|Updated Dec. 4, 2019

North Tampa Behavioral Health’s quarterback-turned-CEO has left the hospital after a scathing inspection found he did not meet the requirements for running the facility.

The hospital’s parent company, Tennessee-based Acadia Healthcare, said Bryon Coleman Jr. had accepted another position within the organization. A spokeswoman said the move “had nothing to do with any regulatory findings.”

A September investigation by the Tampa Bay Times found that Coleman, 31, had no experience in healthcare when he accepted the hospital’s top job in 2018. His resume included quarterbacking the Green Bay Packers practice squad, overseeing sales for a trucking company and managing employee benefits for an insurance company.

Coleman could not be reached for comment.

The Times investigation detailed broader problems at North Tampa Behavioral, including that the hospital exploited patients held under the state’s mental health law, known as the Baker Act.

The hospital used loopholes in the law to keep patients longer than allowed — a tactic that boosted its bottom line, the Times found. It also illegally cut patients off from their families.

Related: Read the investigation: How one Florida psychiatric hospital makes millions off patients who have no choice

After the report, lawmakers called for reviews of North Tampa Behavioral. Inspectors showed up in November and documented serious problems, including that the hospital had not held its medical staff accountable for poor care and patient complaints.

They found that doctors had restricted one patient’s telephone use because she was calling her husband and family to complain about the hospital. After her phone privileges were suspended, she had another patient call her husband to get word to him. A psychiatrist confirmed to inspectors that there was no actual justification for restricting the patient’s rights.

The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services threatened to withhold public funding if the most severe issues weren’t immediately fixed, according to a letter it sent the hospital. Most of the hospital’s revenue comes from the taxpayer-funded insurance programs the agency oversees.

North Tampa Behavioral CEO Bryon Coleman Jr.
North Tampa Behavioral CEO Bryon Coleman Jr. [ Twitter ]

Acadia spokeswoman Gretchen Hommrich denied the hospital was at risk of losing public funding and said regulators did not conclude that Coleman lacked qualifications.

The inspection, however, said there was “no evidence” that the CEO “met the education or experience requirements defined in the position description.” He did not have an appropriate bachelor’s degree for the job or three to five years of experience in senior healthcare leadership.

When inspectors asked for his application for the position, an executive assistant said she couldn’t provide one because the application was “electronic, not paper.”

Coleman confirmed to regulators that he was appointed as CEO even though he did not meet the minimum requirements.

In that role, regulators said, he had “failed to establish clear lines of responsibility and accountability, develop effective communication mechanisms among departments, implement an effective mechanism for responding to complaints concerning patient care and ensure appropriate training for staff.”

Earlier this year, Coleman told the Times that hospital CEOs are sometimes recruited from other industries. He said he had experience in logistics, financial forecasting and customer service, as well as “valuable, transferable skills and attributes including team leadership, situational analysis and sound decision-making.”

The CEO wasn’t the only employee at North Tampa Behavioral who lacked the required qualifications, according to the inspection report. Only four of the 96 employees who performed urine tests and other laboratory work had the proper training. The lead cook was filling in as the director of dietary services, even though he was not qualified. Meanwhile, the kitchen did not properly make meals for patients who needed special diets including diabetics and suicidal patients who shouldn’t use utensils.

The hospital’s grounds were cited for cleanliness issues. In three of the hospital’s four units, inspectors found sink faucets “dripping with buildup of greenish yellow brown” substances and flooring stained with a “black/brown biogrowth.” The air filter for the ice machine was coated in a “gray fuzzy residue.”

Regulators also referred to a high number of citations in the past 12 months and an “on-going pattern of non-compliance with laws and regulations.”

The Times investigation found that since 2014, North Tampa Behavioral was cited 72 times for unsafe conditions and code violations — more than all but one other psychiatric hospital in Florida.

That hospital is also owned by Acadia Healthcare.

North Tampa Behavioral Health had until Dec. 1 to submit a detailed plan to fix the most severe problems. Federal regulators said they had received the plan and were reviewing it.

The letter from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said North Tampa Behavioral would lose public funding on Feb. 19 if regulators were not satisfied with the fixes.

The federal agency rarely takes that step. Just three hospitals across the country lost funding last fiscal year.

North Tampa Behavioral is also under scrutiny from the state Agency for Health Care Administration, which licenses hospitals across Florida and checks for compliance with state standards. The agency conducted its own inspections of the facility, but the reports have not yet been made public.

Additionally, the Florida Department of Children and Families has some oversight because it authorizes hospitals and mental health centers to receive patients under the Baker Act. A spokeswoman declined to say if the agency was investigating.