ROGERS, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — A Northwest Arkansas psychiatrist under investigation for Medicaid fraud is now facing accusations of false imprisonment.

For half of his life, William Vanwhy has lived with depression and anxiety.

“I’ve always been on medication and trying to balance that,” Vanwhy said.

Last year, he sought help. He checked himself into Northwest Health’s Behavioral Health Unit in Springdale.

“That unit is straight out of the 1950s, ‘One Flew Out of the Cuckoo’s Nest,'” Vanwhy said.

Once trying to get in, after a few days, he found himself fighting to get out.

“I thought many times, ‘Hey, I can run out that door and see how far I can go,'” Vanwhy said.

Vanwhy is one of 11 people who have filed lawsuits against the hospital and its former attending physician Dr. Brian Hyatt. Seven of them, Vanwhy included, are claiming false imprisonment. Vanwhy, during his 2022 stay at Northwest’s Behavioral Unit, even petitioned a circuit court for his own release.

That petition claimed Vanwhy was being “unlawfully detained” by Northwest Medical Center-Springdale and Hyatt. It continues, saying that he demanded his release and has been denied.

“I was calling my husband, calling my friend, saying, this place is not safe,” Vanwhy said.

The motion for release goes on to say Vanwhy’s husband even showed up to the facility and asked that he be released and was denied. None of it worked until he got a court order for his “immediate release.” The judge ruled that “The Washington County Sheriff or other law enforcement” helps enforce it. Body cam video KNWA obtained from the sheriff’s office shows the moment that order was enforced.

“I can’t leave until he’s released,” a deputy said on the video as employees worked to comply with the order.

“It’s like breaking out of jail. You’re scared, and you’re under this rock of power, and you get out, and you almost don’t know what to do with yourself,” Vanwhy said.

“I asked to leave every day for the last three days, and they would not let me leave,” Vanwhy told the deputy on the day of his release.

Vanwhy was not the only one. KNWA found two other court orders for the release of patients at Northwest Medical Center-Springdale. Hyatt is not listed as a respondent in those orders, but the hospital is. Those patients are now also suing the hospital and Hyatt.

Hyatt’s attorney has responded to one of the lawsuits against him so far, denying the claims and asking for that case to be dismissed. The hospital also denied the allegations in that same lawsuit. The plaintiff did dismiss the claims against a nurse that was previously listed as a defendant. Hyatt and the hospital still have more time to file their answers to the other lawsuits in court.

These are not the only people to accuse Hyatt of holding them against their will. Darrius Racy is also suing for false imprisonment related to his time at the hospital in April 2022.

“Getting out of here messed me up. I’m just now going back to work,” Racy said.

In a search warrant affidavit related to Hyatt’s Medicaid fraud case, an investigator with the state’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit says “At least some of the patients on the unit were being held against their will and only a physician could make the decision to impose a 72-hour hold.”

A doctor can legally hold a patient with a behavioral health impairment involuntarily for 72 hours, but Vanwhy says that is not what was happening. In his request for a court-ordered release, Vanwhy said he checked in voluntarily. In the same petition, his attorney wrote that there was a longstanding practice of coercing patients into signing consents rather than letting due process take place.

Other hospital employees not named in these petitions are now also being accused of mistreating patients. KNWA found two arrest affidavits from March of two people who used to work with Hyatt at the hospital. They are accused of abusing patients last year.

Affidavits say in March 2022, Collyn Harlan and Isaiah Morris threw a patient to the ground. Two days later, x-rays showed two of the patient’s ribs were fractured.

In another instance that month, Morris allegedly slapped a patient who was “restrained in a restraint chair.”

Both Harlan and Morris have pleaded not guilty. A hospital spokesperson tells us “It is not our practice to comment on current or former employees. I am able to confirm these individuals have not been employees of our health system since April 2022.”

Now out of the behavioral health unit, these former patients face new, emotional challenges.

“I’m a good person and I moved up here for a purpose,” Racy said while fighting back tears.

“Now my struggle is, I’m trying to figure out just how messed up am I. Do I need this medicine?” he said.

Vanwhy and Racy have both filed a lawsuit against Hyatt and the hospital. Their attorneys tell KNWA more lawsuits are still coming. KNWA reached out to Hyatt and his attorneys multiple times for an interview but never heard back.

The Office of Medicaid Inspector General says Hyatt’s contract at Northwest was abruptly terminated in 2022. In the Arkansas Medical Practices Act, KNWA found a requirement for hospitals to report in writing to the medical board any physician “whose hospital privileges have been revoked, limited or terminated for any cause, including resignation.” But, the medical board did not have any such report. KNWA asked the hospital why.

Spokesperson Christina Bull, “The hospital has been working cooperatively with the Arkansas Attorney General’s Office investigation concerning Dr. Hyatt since April of 2022. Given the nature and confidentiality of that investigation, we determined that a report to the medical board could have compromised their investigation.”

The hospital denied our request to interview for this story but instead sent us this statement.

“While it is not our practice to comment on pending litigation matters, I can share that last spring, we undertook a number of actions to ensure our patients’ safety, including hiring new providers responsible for the clinical care of our behavioral health patients in early May 2022.”