ROGERS, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — A prominent Northwest Arkansas doctor faces mounting legal trouble.
Dr. Brian Hyatt is a psychiatrist in Rogers. He was also the chair of the Arkansas medical board. He resigned from that role in March after claims of Medicaid fraud became public. Although there have been no criminal charges filed against him, the state attorney general’s office has launched an investigation. In the meantime, his Medicaid billing privileges have been suspended. Hyatt’s attorney promised to appeal, saying that “There has not been an effort to intentionally deceive or misrepresent any services provided to a Medicaid recipient.”
Now, he, along with multiple others at Northwest Medical Center’s Behavioral Health Unit in Springdale, is facing a growing number of lawsuits. At least 11 former patients have filed suit so far, stemming from their time at the facility. Three of those patients had to get court orders to be released from Hyatt’s care. Hyatt was the medical director from 2018-22. In recently filed lawsuit answers, both Hyatt and the hospital denied the claims in one of the lawsuits.
In a KNWA News exclusive, four of his former patients are sharing their stories for the first time.
These four had never met before, but they know each other’s stories.
“It was a nightmare. I’ve never been more scared for my freedom, my safety than I have been in that hospital,” former patient William Vanwhy said.
They’ve lived it.
“She wanted to hug me, but I was so scared. I mean, I hugged my wife, but I broke the embrace to hurry up and get out of there,” Clyde Hunnicutt said.
They are bonded through experience.
“That was the one time I was supposed to get some help. That was a one time I was supposed to be transparent. You know, and honest, and somebody was supposed to help me,” Darrius Racy said.
Over the past couple of years, they say their mental health landed them in Dr. Brian Hyatt’s care at Northwest Medical Center’s Behavioral Health Unit in Springdale.
“I did an intentional suicide attempt by taking multitudes of pills,” Hunnicutt said.
“I’ve also dealt with depression, anxiety, the majority of my life,” Vanwhy said.
“I lost two people very close to me and I found myself pretty distraught at that time and was taken to the emergency room. I had just gotten off work. I found out that I lost my brother,” former patient Shannon Williams said.
Williams is a traveling nurse. She believes they were all a part of a billing scheme; one currently being investigated by the state Attorney General’s office.
“Found myself in a nightmare is all I can say that it was. It’s just a nightmare,” Williams said.
According to a search warrant affidavit from the state’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit (MFCU). In April 2022, a confidential informant told the MFCU that Hyatt “had no contact with patients.” Although a Medicaid fraud investigator’s medical claims review indicates Hyatt “conducted daily, face-to-face evaluations.” The affidavit said investigators know in March and April of 2022, “Hyatt is not communicating with his patients regularly.” It continues, saying they reviewed “several days and hundreds of hours of video and have yet to observe Dr. Hyatt enter a patient’s room or otherwise have direct contact with a patient.”
All four former patients KNWA spoke to said they had a similar experience.
Hunnicutt claims he spent 12 days at the BHU and saw Hyatt one time. Williams claims she spent about a week at the BHU and never saw Hyatt. Racy said in eight days at the facility, he spent a max of two minutes with Hyatt. Vanwhy said in five days at the BHU, he never saw Hyatt.
All the while, medical bills piled up. Vanwhy’s insurance was charged nearly $14,500 for his five-day stay.
“They have the gall to charge you for this stay. So, they charge your insurance company. They charge you for this stay,” he said.
KNWA found a similar complaint sent to the state medical board back in 2020. Someone wrote, Hyatt “skipped patient’s room one day during morning rounds but still billed patient as having been seen that day.”
The board investigated the complaint. In a written response, Hyatt explained his daily routine of going room to room and said “It would be darn near impossible for me to miss a room.”
“Several red flags” have popped up with Hyatt’s Medicaid billing practices. The affidavit claims Hyatt repeatedly charged patients with the billing code that paid the most. The investigator says nationally, that code is billed 20.9% of the time. Over a three-year timespan, Hyatt billed that code 99.95% of the time.
KNWA News obtained former audits and found Hyatt’s Medicaid billing has been called into question for years. The Office of Medicaid Inspector General reviewed Hyatt’s billing for the entire month of February 2017. It found the “only hospital care claim billed” was designated for “the highest level of initial care.” It also found that “services provided does not meet CPT code 90833.” This happened 134 times that month. In some instances, Hyatt underbilled. But in the end, he still had to pay back $9,847.23.
More billing code questions were brought up in a complaint sent to the state medical board. In November 2018, a woman wrote the board saying “there was no way her 10 minutes with Dr. Hyatt could justify” these charges.
Hyatt responded by saying “This is fairly ludicrous.” He said that one of the codes billed could be based on time or complexity of the case.
A similar audit for Hyatt’s billing in November 2014 also raised concerns. It found 328 instances where “documentation does not support procedure code billed.” Hyatt had to pay back $17,577.63 that time. He told auditors at the time, ”I have already instituted meaningful changes to my documentation based on the feedback I have been provided.”
But behind all of those numbers are beneficiaries.
“It was like being held ransom,” Williams said.
“It’s like breaking out of jail. You’re scared, and you’re under this rock of power,” Vanwhy said.
And these people say their stories are about more than just Medicaid fraud.
Vanwhy is one of several people to sue Hyatt and the hospital for “false imprisonment”. Hyatt was not served any of the lawsuits before March 31. The defendants have responded to one of them so far, denying the allegations and asking for the claims to be dismissed.
KNWA tried multiple times to contact Hyatt at his office and through his attorneys. None of our calls or e-mails were returned. There have still been no criminal charges filed against Hyatt.
In all, there have been at least seven complaints about Hyatt filed with the state medical board. Two of those came after these recent lawsuits and investigations were announced. For the previous five, the medical board had the same response each time, saying “After examining the information, it was the vote of the board that there was no evidence of a violation of the Arkansas Medical Practices Act. Therefore, no disciplinary hearing was scheduled.”
The medical board declined to interview for this story.
The hospital also denied our request to interview for this story but instead sent 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.”