Drug rehab offers out of state patients free plane tickets for treatment

Expert says that could violate Florida law

Riverview, FL — The ABC Action News I-Team has been investigating issues at River Oaks Treatment Center owned by American Addiction Centers in recent months.

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We’ve reported on big bills, hundreds of calls to 9-1-1 and patient deaths.

During the process, we’re also uncovered questions about who pays for patients to get there.  

Former drug rehab patient Rachel says River Oaks billed her insurance nearly $3,000 a day, but never charged her for the Uber ride there.

Experts say that could be a violation of Florida law.

“Practically everyone from out of state was flown in. They told them ‘We’ll hurry up and get you on the next plane,’” she said.

Tonia Donnini came to River Oaks from Ohio, after getting a referral from a medical facility there.

“They said basically everything would be taken care of. They would pay for my flight down. They would transport me from Tampa Airport,” Donnini said.

Mike Isom, who was River Oaks' Transportation Manager for two years, says most patients came from other states and American Addiction Centers paid their way. 

He said he knew this because, “I'm the one who goes through the cases. I look through the cases as the transportation manager to see who's coming, where they're coming, how they got here.”

Palm Beach County's State Attorney Dave Aronberg empaneled a grand jury to investigate fraud and abuse in Florida's drug addiction treatment industry.

He didn't specifically investigate American Addiction Centers, but says state law prohibits medical facilities from offering incentives to seek treatment.

“It is illegal patient brokering, a third degree felony in Florida, punishable by up to five years in prison,” Aronberg said.

AAC declined an interview, but admitted buying some patients' plane tickets. 

They issued the following statement:

We have guidelines that we do not separately pay for client transportation, either travel to or from our facility. However, we recognize that when a person who is suffering from this deadly disease reaches out, it is critical to get them into treatment as quickly as possible.  At times, we have assisted someone in crisis to get into treatment with the understanding that these expenses will be factored into a client’s billing statements.

They could not provide examples of when that occurred. 

We reviewed multiple clients’ bills who said AAC paid for their transportation to the facility and did not see evidence that the company passed along that expense, which is not covered by insurance.

“They'll say 'we can't provide you a free plane ticket, but we'll loan you the money and then you can pay us back.' And that day never comes. That's also illegal,” Aronberg said.

Several former River Oaks patients say they've contacted authorities about their concerns. 

If you have a story you'd like the I-Team to investigate, contact us at adam@abcactionnews.com

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