FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — A Northwest Arkansas psychiatrist under investigation for Medicaid fraud was also named as a defendant in a 2021 wrongful death lawsuit scheduled for a jury trial this summer.
Dr. Brian T. Hyatt of Rogers was informed on February 24 that his Medicaid billing privileges were suspended following allegations of fraud. His attorney, Gabriel D. Mallard, wrote a letter to the Arkansas Department of Human Services on March 1 on behalf of his client, stating that the doctor and his practice, Pinnacle Premiere Psychiatry (PPP), “vigorously contest that any credible allegation of fraud exists.”
Hyatt was also named as a defendant in two lawsuits filed earlier this year alleging criminal misconduct toward patients. And court documents show that he is a named co-defendant in a wrongful death lawsuit filed in 2021.
Michelle Howard filed that complaint on July 16, 2021, after the death of her husband, Gary Wayne Howard. A statement of facts included in the filing explained that she took him to the emergency room at Northwest Medical Center in Bentonville due to severe depression and suicidal thoughts on January 7, 2020.
“It was determined that Mr. Howard posed a threat to himself and that he would require inpatient treatment,” the filing stated. “Mr. Howard was voluntarily transferred to Northwest Medical Center – Springdale for admission on January 7, 2020.”
Dr. Hyatt accepted that transfer and agreed to care for Howard. Upon admission, his estimated length of stay was from 7-12 days. He was diagnosed with persistent depressive disorder; major depressive disorder – recurrent severe; mild cluster B traits; primary insomnia; hypertension; diabetes mellitus; hyperlipidemia; and minimal obesity, according to court documents.
The next day, he spoke to his wife and told her that he had not been provided his regular medications. He was also missing his glasses and a CPAP machine for his sleep apnea.
She asked to speak to the doctor but was directed to a counselor instead and had to leave a message. She did not receive a return call.
His brother visited him on January 9, 2020 and observed that the victim was not being fed according to his diabetic diet and was told that if he didn’t comply, he would not be allowed family calls or visits. Repeated calls by the plaintiff went unreturned.
A social worker met with him on January 13, 2020 and reported that Howard was “feeling anxious and frustrated.” He also expressed feelings of hopelessness.
In his medical records from that day, Hyatt certified that the expected length of stay was from 7-21 days total. He also indicated that there had been “no meaningful change in Gary’s uncontrolled depression that would warrant a step down to a less-acute treatment setting.”
“The quality of the patient’s depression remains morbid and without meaningful change that would justify discharge,” the doctor wrote. “The severity obviously remains sufficient enough to require inpatient hospitalization. Judgment and insight are horrid.”
The next day, Howard called his family to tell them that he was being discharged. His daughter and son-in-law arrived and picked him up.
According to court documents, there was no discussion with any doctor or nurse regarding Howard’s current state, his discharge paperwork, his prescriptions or any other warnings or things for family to watch out for. Follow-up care was not discussed and no future appointments were scheduled.
On January 15, 2020, Howard called 911, “informed them that he was going to kill himself,” and fatally stabbed himself in the neck before law enforcement arrived.
Filing individually and as special administrator of the estate of her late husband, Michelle Howard said that “it was the failure of the defendants collectively to treat Gary appropriately, including his premature discharge in combination with the severity of his illness that caused him to commit suicide on January 15, 2020.”
The lawsuit named Hyatt’s practice, Northwest Medical Center (auxiliary and Springdale) and 12 John Does as co-defendants. The suit highlighted a list of “negligent deviations from the accepted standard of care,” including discharging the victim prematurely, failure to recognize the severity of his mental illness and failure to make an appropriate post-discharge care plan.
The suit’s list of elements worthy of damages included funeral and burial expenses, physical and mental pain and suffering, and loss of life, among others. It asked for compensatory damages in an amount to be set by a jury.
In a response to the lawsuit, Hyatt said that no action on his part was “below any recognized standard of care” while participating in the care and treatment of Howard. A trial has been scheduled for August 7 in Washington County circuit court.