Universal Health Services: Laurel Heights Hospital Failed to Inform Parent When 6-Year-Old Went Missing

July 14, 2022

DEKALB COUNTY, Ga. — A mother wants answers after her 6-year-old son was found walking alone outside of an Atlanta behavioral health hospital.

Brittany Davis told 11Alive she was notified by police her son, who has autism, was found alone on the road on Sunday afternoon.

Brittany said her son has impulsive behavior and likes to "elope" or run away and was prescribed a new medication to control the behavior.

"He runs. He's been a runner since he was 2 years old. It's just a part of his autism," the boy's grandmother, Dianna Davis explained.

Once the child's behavior worsened, Brittany contacted their doctor, who recommended sending the young boy to Laurel Heights hospital. Almost three days after he was checked in, Brittany noticed several missed calls.

"I just called them back and it was the police," said Brittany. "He (the officer) had said  'are you the parent {child's name}?' My heart dropped thinking that something had happened. Because we sent him there thinking he was going to be safe."

DeKalb Police confirmed  Brittany's child was found a quarter of a mile away from the hospital. Police called the Department of Family and Child Services to locate his mother. Once an officer talked to Brittany, police were instructed by DFACS to return the child to the hospital in order for him to be properly discharged to his mom's care.

Brittany said the hospital never notified her that her son was missing and it's unclear how long he was gone. Police told her they had her son in their custody for at least an hour and a half.

When Brittany arrived to pick up her son, she noticed multiple scratches and welts on his body, apparently from climbing a chain-link fence to get out of the facility.

"He said he was coming home," Brittany said. "But in his mind, he thought we were just across the street. Like, we were just a few streets down in his mind. He didn't realize that we were like, almost two hours away."

Brittany and Dianne said they told hospital staff he is smart and likes to run off. They're wondering why their concern wasn't taken seriously.

"I mean, that call could have been different. That call could have been 'we just found your son dead in the middle of the street,'" said Brittany.

"How can a 6-year-old do all of that and no one noticed that he's trying to escape," Dianne said.

Laurel Heights is a private child and young adult behavior hospital. According to its website, they run residential programs for children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, and consists of a staff of nurses, clinicians, therapists, educators, and psychiatrists.

In a statement to 11Alive, the CEO of the facility wrote, "Laurel Heights Hospital can confirm that a patient eloped from the facility on July 10. Due to HIPAA patient privacy laws, we cannot offer comment on specific patients or their treatment."

11Alive asked if any hospital staff notified police, but have not received a response.

Laurel Heights has been the subject of investigations before. In 2017, the family of a 19-year-old with autism who died while in their care sued the hospital. At the time, 11Alive found through open records requests, the hospital was so far out of compliance in 2014, it nearly lost its Medicare affiliation. In 2015, it was warned for improperly restraining patients.

In 2016, parents of a 12-year-old girl with autism who received treatment at the facility, told 11Alive their daughter was scalded by hot water.

Google showcases at least 119 reviews with a 2.1 overall rating for the hospital, with multiple 1-star reviews detailing various complaints. Many of those complaints have responses from the owner, thanking the person for raising the concern and offering to discuss the issues. There are several 5-star reviews thanking the hospital and staff.

"Why are they still in business? Or even able to have autistic children? That doesn't make any sense at all," said Dianne.

"It makes me wonder why my psychiatrist would have even suggested a place like that for my child," added Brittany.

Both mother and grandmother said the staff were apologetic when they went to pick the child up from the facility. They are now in the process of finding an attorney.

Source: Hope Ford, “Mom wants answers from behavioral health hospital after 6-year-old child found alone with scratches,” WXIA-TV (Atlanta, GA), July 11, 2022, URL: https://www.11alive.com/article/news/community/6-year-old-atlanta-dfacs-behavioral-health-hospital-scratches/85-41b24b6e-a90e-4761-bd66-e5489e66b759


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