The 22-year-old was cherished by his family, and in good physical health. But he had bouts of depression.
On Jan. 16, 2013, his grandmother convinced him to sign himself into University Behavioral Health (UBH).
UBH and Mayhill Hospital are sister hospitals in Denton County that treat mental illness and drug addiction. Both are owned and operated by Universal Health Services (UHS).
“I still feel it’s my fault for taking him there,” his grandmother, Sandra Chaffin, told News 8. “I encouraged him to sign [his entry papers.] I said, ‘It’ll be all right. Sign it, baby.'”
Seventeen days later, Aaron Gower was brain dead. He was found unconscious in his room. UBH told his relatives Aaron was unconscious for fifteen minutes. His family says it was longer.
“At least two hours he laid there like that – in his own vomit – and no one checked on him,” said his sister, based on information she says she was given at the hospital Aaron was transferred to. “If they did [check on him,] they walked past and didn’t physically go in there and check him.”
“He was in the critical stabilization unit [at UBH,]” said Aaron’s father, John Gower. “And that sounds like they’re supposed to take care of him, look after him — critical stabilization.”
Mrs. Chaffin, Aaron’s grandmother, said the day he was found unconscious, she was called by UBH and told he’d been transferred to another hospital. When she found him, “Aaron was lying there unconscious, intubated, foamy blood was oozing, coming up from his lungs. I talked. I held him, just wanting any response. There was nothing, and there never was anything. But the foam, the blood dried in his nose, and [he] was hiccupping over and over.”
Three months later, the Gowers still haven’t received Aaron’s medical records. They don’t know exactly what drugs he was being given. They say UBH told them the cause of his death was a fast-spreading kind of pneumonia, and was he was brain dead a few hours later.
Attorney Dawn Smith is representing three patients who have grievances against UBH and Mayhill. Their complaints range from negligence, to understaffing and to over-medication by the institutions.
“The circumstance as to why he was deprived of that oxygen, and why he threw up and laid there for a period of time — we still don’t know that,” Smith told News 8.
The Gowers filed a complaint with the Texas Department of State Health Services over Aaron’s treatment.
Separately, under the Texas Public Information Act, News 8 obtained a dozen complaints filed by patients at UBH Denton and Mayhill with the Denton Police Department.
They include two alleged cases of forcible sodomy, to the alleged rape of a young woman last year at UBH.
Laurie, we’ll call her, was seventeen at the time. She was highly medicated, awoke on her bed, and felt like she’d been assaulted.
“There was quite a bit of pain, and some blood on my clothes,” she told News 8.
She said the UBH doctor would not let her be examined. She was finally allowed to call her parents, who took her to John Peter Smith Hospital, where she was tested by a sexual assault nurse examiner.
“The nurse that performed the examination said she couldn’t say I was legally raped, because she wasn’t there,” Laurie said, “but there were signs of intercourse, whether it was willing or not.”
Jessica Rogers, a patient at Mayhill Hospital, had been heavily sedated, too. She was asleep in her room when she said she was jolted awake.
“There was a man’s hands on my breast,” Rogers told News 8. “And he had his hands in my pants, and he was penetrating me.”
Rogers said she had complained to staff about another patient who had entered her room several times.
“I said, ‘I want the police called,’” Rogers recalls. “And [the staffer] said, ‘We do in-house investigations here.’”
After she reported her alleged assault, Rogers said her clothes were taken and she was placed on ‘suicide watch.’
That was last year, police records show. To this day, the hospital has not produced a report of the incident.
“The hospital hasn’t responded of any of the allegations,” Dawn Smith said.
News 8 contacted Universal Health Services (UHS), which owns UBH Denton and Mayhill. UHS responded in writing, saying two of the three incidents occurred when UBH Denton and Mayhill were owned by Ascend Health Corporation, which UHS acquired last year for $517 million.
“Notwithstanding,” UHS said in its statement to News 8, “UBH of Denton and Mayhill Hospital are committed to providing the highest quality care and treatment to our patients. Each of these facilities is licensed by the state, nationally accredited or certified and in good standing.”
Aaron Gower died at UBH three months after UHS bought the hospital. After his parents filed a complaint about his treatment with the state, the Texas Department of State Health Services investigated. In a letter to Sandra Chaffin, the state said “one or more” of the allegations in the complaint were “substantiated.”
But the state says complaints, investigations, and their findings are confidential.