RIVERVIEW, Fla. — A grieving father and former patients are speaking out about the level of care at a local drug rehab facility after a 21-year-old man died there last month.
The ABC Action News I-Team first reported about the facility in 2018, which affects not only patients but also taxpayers and the community.
Stone Galaway, who lived in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, turned to River Oaks Treatment Center in Riverview, Florida for a new life, free from his addiction to anxiety drugs.
He had been prescribed drugs like Xanax and Valium by his doctor since he was 13 years old.
“Stone was an awesome kid. He was 21-years-old. Just full of life,” said Stone’s father Paul Galaway.
“It was our understanding he was supposed to get 24/7 care and he was supposed to be checked on every hour,” Galaway said. “That was the whole reason my son went there is because he was scared of dying. He was scared of having some sort of seizure trying to get off this medicine.”
On January 16, nine days after he arrived, Galaway’s ex-wife got a call from a Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Deputy informing her Stone had died.
We obtained a recording of the 911 call, but it was redacted.
“I’m livid with those people,” Galaway said.
Galaway said River Oaks failed to provide the “24/7 medical oversight” promised on the company’s website.
“There was no reason for my son to have died there,” Paul said.
Roommate said he reported breathing problems to staff
“I went to sleep with someone dying right next to me,” said D.J. Sullivan, who identified himself as Stone’s roommate.
He has since returned to Tennessee.
Sullivan said Stone missed his opportunity to get his nightly medication after staying late at the gym. Sullivan said he gave Stone part of a Suboxone capsule to help him sleep.
“The sound he was making. It was just unsettling,” Sullivan said.
Sullivan said Stone started wheezing as he drifted off the sleep. Sullivan said he reported Stone’s labored breathing to a nurse and another employee, who he said dismissed his concerns.
“That should be a red flag in your head… like 'hey I need to go check on this kid' because I done came to them twice,” Sullivan said.
Ten hours later, Stone was found dead.
“I woke up. I looked over and the nurse was on the bed on him giving him CPR,” Sullivan said.
“Just to have him ignored. And just to have them forget about him all night long, it’s unforgivable,” Galaway said.
Prior death and injury resulted in lawsuits
The I-Team uncovered problems at River Oaks for years.
In December 2016, a patient who was being admitted to River Oaks died while trying to run away.
According to a lawsuit filed by the patient’s widow, a single employee with no medical training was attempting to admit the patient by himself while the patient was having a psychotic episode.
The lawsuit alleges that the employee “utilized a golf cart to chase the paranoid, suicidal and delusional” patient onto a busy road where he was hit by a car and killed.
“There is an absolute lack of oversight, there's a lack of supervision,” said attorney Jack Gordon, who represents the patient’s widow.
Another lawsuit involved a November 2018 incident in which a patient suffering severe tremors while detoxing from alcohol was left unattended and set herself on fire with a lighter while trying to smoke.
“Her blouse was engulfed in flames. She suffered significant burns. Fire rescue responded. She was transported to Tampa General Hospital. Was in critical condition. She remained there for about 45 days,” said attorney Scott Leeds, who represents the patient.
Another patient jumped over a fence and rifled through cars in a nearby neighborhood; stealing valuables to trade for drugs. He shot himself in the head with a handgun he found in a vehicle when he was confronted by a neighbor.
Former security and transportation director Mike Isom told the I-Team in 2018 that patients frequently left the facility to get drunk or high.
“They would just walk out, walk down the street, walk down to the 7/11 themselves. Go in [and] pop a cold one. Pop a cold 40,” Isom said.
More than 900 calls to 911 in five years
In 2018, the I-Team reported there were 433 calls to the Hillsborough County 911 dispatch center in the first two years the center had been open.
At the time, River Oaks said in a statement, “We have worked extensively to reduce our impact and use of these services”.
To find out if things had improved the I-Team asked for new numbers. It turned out that River Oaks has been keeping emergency responders plenty busy.
The I-Team learned there were 498 calls for service from January 1, 2019, through December 31, 2021. The 25 pages of calls include deaths, assaults, thefts, missing persons, sex offenses, and hundreds of ambulance responses.
“It tells me that they haven’t done anything. They’ve continued to let this lack of duty of care continue on. Continue on and on,” Galaway said.
Parent company did not respond to questions
The I-Team emailed American Addiction Center spokesperson Joy Sutton three times and spoke to her briefly on the phone, but she never responded to our questions.
Paul Galaway found our previous stories about River Oaks online, but only after his son’s death.
“We trusted our child with these people. He wasn’t off the streets. He was out of my third bedroom,” Galaway said.
The ABC Action News I-Team asked him why he reached out to us.
“Primarily so it doesn’t happen again. But given their track record, to be honest with you, I don’t think anything will change,” Galaway said.
If you have a story you think the I-Team should investigate, email us at email@example.com.