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Lake Shore Hospital Authority

Meridian Behavioral Health Took Center Stage at the LSHA: Former Employee, Counselor, and Clients Gave Meridian the Thumbs Down

Photo: Salvator Tonnara via Pexels | Columbia County Observer graphic

More LSHA stories are here.

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – During the November Lake Shore Hospital Authority (LSHA) Governor's Board meeting, after a year of foot dragging by the Authority and, most recently, Meridian, Meridian’s quality of care finally became an issue.

The last item on the Board’s docket, “Discussion and possible action -- Contract with Meridian Behavioral Healthcare,” volunteered no additional information, i.e., what possible action?

Authority Manager Dale Williams, a North Florida legend, builds the agendas and determines the order of business. He is not keen on advising the public what possible actions might be taken.

Trustee Lory Chancy

These are only a portion of the horror stories that you hear. I have not brought this forward because I personally never experienced it, but I have heard the stories, and I have worked with people that have experienced it. And it's heartbreaking.

The Authority’s supporting information provided a draft contract between the Authority and Meridian. That was it. There were no issues presented with the material. It appeared as though the Governor’s Board may have approved the contract that night.

The contract did not say draft or final nor give any version number. The last page of the agreement had a number that ended in "v.1," but it is unknown what that meant, as this was "version 4 or 5," according to Authority Attorney Todd Kennon.

With approval possibly hanging in the balance, members of the public came to comment. This is a right guaranteed by Florida law. Former Chairman Brandon Beil (Chairman until the November meeting) and Trustee Don Kennedy were caught off guard by the comments.

Mr. Beil seemed offended that the people did not come to criticize Meridian before this meeting. After the meeting, Mr. Beil said, “They could have come when we were talking about it,” and that 'they,' the Authority attorney and Meridian attorney, had been negotiating the contract for months.

Meridian’s Quality of Care:
None, other than Meridian, are giving it good reviews

On November 11, in an Op-Ed, “There Are Voices To Be Heard Before the Vacated LSHA Hospital Is Gifted To Meridian Behavioral Health Care," Joy Stevens opined, "If this facility is going to be handed over to help with the mental health needs of the community, then we need real people who give real reviews about this facility before the Authority gives it away. One is hard-pressed to find reviews from real people regarding Meridian… Where are the reviews from real clients?”

Ms. Stevens concluded, "The Lake Shore Hospital Authority needs to be aware of who they would be allowing to take over the community's mental health care.”

Meridian’s outsized top brass salaries and poor reviews from past employees give one pause to think. See: LSHA: Meridian Behavioral Services On the Docket Tonight. Looking Past the Meridian Glitz & Outsized Salaries, Is It Providing Quality Services & Care?

Professionals and Clients: What Did They Tell Meridian?

Jeannie Carr, counselorJeannie Carr was the first to address the Board about her experiences dealing with Meridian. Ms. Carr began, “I worked in this community for 20 years as a professional. My experience with them, I would like to say is good, but that's not true. I saw many of their clients, sometimes on a daily basis, often on a weekly basis for sure. Those clients were never seen [by] a counselor. They were given drugs, many of them addictive drugs, and sent on their way.

Ms. Carr continued, “I have sat with many children, some of them as young as six years old, who have been taken by the police from the school to Meridian to the crisis unit. They were put in a room, locked in a room with nothing but a chair. Now, if you or I did that as a parent, that would be considered child abuse.”

Jeannie Carr's presentation to the LSHA about MeridianMs. Carr said parents were not notified, and when they were "finally notified and brought into Meridian, they were not allowed to see their children, who were often terrified and crying to go home."

Ms. Carr said, “My experience with Meridian has been that they create a drug problem, and then they create a program to treat it.”

Josey Corbett, licensed clinical social workerJosey Corbett introduced herself, “Good evening. My name is Josey Sampson Corbett. I'm a licensed clinical social worker serving clients in Lake City and across Florida. I own a local company of nine counselors and counting.”

Ms. Corbett explained the client review process at Meridian. She used to work there. "One of the things that we had to do was solicit client reviews… if a review is negative, it was counted against us. So, as you can imagine, most people don't turn those reviews in."

Meridian CEO Don Savoie was not given high marks by Ms. Corbett. She said, “Shortly after Don Savoie was promoted to CEO, the outpatient team in Lake City completely vacated in a matter of a few short months. We went from a stable team of 12, who we had been told by our supervisor was the most stable team in Meridian's entire company, to a team that had literally maybe one person, or no people since that time.”

Josey Corbett addressess the LSHA about MeridianMs. Corbett said, “The problem at Meridian has been the poor leadership, or more accurately, the lack of clinical leadership. Choices made at the top and forced upon well-meaning frontline workers are often unethical and wrong.”

“One example, which is still difficult to understand, happened to me. Upper management decided to have another clinician call my clients and tell them that I did not want to see them anymore. Meridian's reason for doing this was that I had too many clients. The logic is difficult to understand.”

Ms. Corbett said that she thought the work in other counties was sacrificed to support the Meridian facility in Gainesville. "Programs that were running well in the rural areas, including Columbia County and several other counties were systematically destroyed to further support work in the Gainesville office.”

Ms. Corbett mentioned that clinicians working in the area and other rural areas “will not work for Meridian even though they currently pay more than almost anybody else."

As she concluded her presentation, Ms. Corbett told the Board, “I think allowing Meridian to give substandard or unethical counseling services to the people in this town with their poorly delivered services is a bad idea and is frankly as dangerous to this community as it is to the individual client's. Please consider this before you give Meridian the [vacated] hospital."

Joy Stevens, mental health activistJoy Stevens introduced herself to the Board, "I am one of the many voices of Meridian that has not been heard. I have been trying for years, about three years, to get my voice and other voices heard in this community.”

Ms. Steven’s said, “I tried to leave real patient reviews. I was blocked from numerous sites, including their actual webpage. At this moment, you cannot leave reviews. It kicks you out.”

Ms. Stevens said her experience with individual therapists was “for the most part positive." “I had severe negative experiences with upper management."

Listen to Joy StevensMs. Stevens said she was shocked when she discovered the inpatient facility in Lake City was co-ed, "with men being able to mingle with women."

Ms. Stevens said she was denied her daily medication and was forced to take other medication.

Ms. Stevens explained her billing problems and claimed Meridian filed "false diagnosis codes on my Medicaid claims," blaming it on the billing department. Ms. Stevens also said that Meridian violated her HIPPA rights."

Ms. Stevens concluded her presentation by urging the Board to talk to the community and find out the quality of Meridian's services before gifting the hospital to Meridian.

Ms. XMs. Z, the final person with personal Meridian experience, asked the Observer not to reveal her name or publish her photo. We are respecting her wishes.

Ms. Z came to the microphone. Ms. Z said she had been at both Shands Psychiatric and Meridian, and the care she received "was like night and day. The facility was, as Joy said, very terrible."

Ms. Z said her roommate found a shiv under her mattress.

Ms. Z said she never felt like leaving Shands, but tried to escape from Meridian. “I was getting good care instead of terrible, terrible, not very good care at all."

Ms. Z said, “The co-ed thing is scary as well. One of the nurses told me that they had personally witnessed rapes that have happened in the ward."

Ms. Z said that the four to five televised psychiatrists she had wouldn’t communicate with each other through Meridian.

Last Up On the Agenda: Meridian

Fifty-five minutes after the meeting was gaveled to order, the Meridian contract came up on the Authority's docket.

Authority Attorney Todd Kennon brought up the reverter clause in the Authority-Meridian agreement. Meridian would agree to a thirty-year reverter, aka, if Meridian uses the gifted Authority building according to the contract after thirty years, the hospital building is owned by Meridian.

Trustee Chancy voted against any clause that gives the hospital building to Meridian.

Another contract issue between Meridian and the Authority is the parking lot adjacent to the hospital. That parking lot was gifted to the Authority by the Masons and reverted to the Masons when the Authority no longer owns the property.

Attorney Kennon and manager Williams will meet with the Masons and attempt to thrash out a deal by which Meridian could take possession of the parking lot.

Meridian CEO Don Savoie appeared at the meeting via Zoom, explaining that he had another meeting and couldn't make it to the Authority on time. Two others from Meridian were also attending the meeting by Zoom.

As the discussion regarding Meridian was winding down, trustee Chancy commented about Meridian and the folks who came to testify against gifting Meridian the vacated hospital.

Trustee Lory Chancy spoke for the first time about what she had known for years.
Trustee Lory Chancy spoke out for the first time about what she had known for years, there was trouble with Meridian.

Ms. Chancy got to the point: "You all know that I have been adamantly opposed to Meridian taking it over. I still have great reservations about it."

For the first time, liberated by the comments from the public, Ms. Chancy mentioned what many have known about Meridian: "In all my years up here working in hospitals, the stories that these ladies have shared are stories that go around about Meridian; not just with these ladies -- with a lot of patients and yes there are some that they help, but I want you all to remember, they are a for-profit to pay for all their expenses, which is why different people get shut out.”

Ms. Chancy continued, “But these are only a portion of the horror stories that you hear. I have not brought this forward before because I personally never experienced it, but I have heard the stories, and I have worked with people that have experienced it. And it's heartbreaking. That's my comment.”

Ms. Chancy, having broken the ice about the unexpected public testimony, former Chairman and now Trustee Beil weighed in. He said, “I would agree with those comments,” adding, “I think what Meridian is proposing and wanting to do is to increase the services that they provide similar to what they're doing in Gainesville, and we heard from some tonight that what they're doing in Gainesville is good.”

Mr. Beil laid back on the public testimony. He was more concerned about the reverter clause and the attorney negotiation expenses. 

Mr. Beil said, "I empathize with the comments made tonight, but I think that's part of what they're [Meridian] tryin’ to do is increase those services.”

Ms. Chancy said, “I believe what they said is in Gainesville, Meridian does have some services, but it’s Shands that they feel comfortable with.”

One of the commenters said, “Yes.”

Ms. Chancy said, “There’s a big difference.”

A little while later, Mr. Beil volunteered that he had been having ex parte communication with Meridian CEO Don Savoie.

Mr. Beil became defensive, “We've had public input for, you know, a year ago, on this. We've gotten to the point that we are now; we have two issues to resolve. I think it's time to be done with it.”

Quality of care did not appear to be high on Mr. Beil’s mind.

The Governor's Board, Authority Attorney Kennon, and Trustee Kennedy became confused.

After some discussion, the Board realized the vote on the 30-year reverter clause for Meridian failed, and the negotiation regarding the Masonic Lodge parking lot was still to be negotiated.

The Authority staff report was next on the agenda. The Authority's performance numbers are so pathetic that they are never announced.

Trustee Kennedy finally acknowledged the folks that came to testify and thanked them. Mr. Beil and Manager Williams echoed the sentiment.


After the meeting adjourned, your reporter asked Trustee Kennedy if the evening’s testimony affected his decision to give the hospital to Meridian. Mr. Kennedy did not answer.

Your reporter asked Trustee Chancy the same question. Ms. Chancy replied, "You know I have been against giving the hospital to Meridian all along."


Sound clips edited for size.

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