As client deaths prompt lawsuits, rehab exec quits job to run for LV Council

By: - January 11, 2019 12:25 pm
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Dave Marlon, Candidate for LV City Council Ward One. Campaign photo

Newly-announced Las Vegas City Council candidate Dave Marlon stepped down this week as Regional Vice President for Nevada of American Addiction Centers, a national drug and alcohol rehab giant, and CEO of Desert Hope and Solutions Recovery, the Las Vegas company he founded.

Marlon resigned to “pursue public service opportunities…” according to a statement from AAC’s corporate office in Nashville. 

“I quit because I felt compelled to serve others. I chose to pursue public service,” he told the Current via a campaign official.

Marlon is running for the Ward One seat being vacated by Lois Tarkanian, who is term-limited.  Her daughter-in-law, Amy, told the Current last year that Marlon would run only if she decided not to enter the race.  Amy Tarkanian has not returned numerous messages and calls since Marlon’s announcement.  

Also planning to run for the seat – Councilwoman Tarkanian’s assistant, Robin Munier, former Las Vegas staffer Brian Knudsen and businessman Sherman Avery Ray.

“Marlon founded and built one of the most successful addiction recovery centers in the country in the heart of Southern Nevada,” says his city council campaign website.  “The long time Las Vegas resident, after successfully addressing his own struggles with substance abuse, realized that he was uniquely suited to help others confronting addiction.”

His departure comes amid the discovery by the Current of at least four deaths in less than two years at AAC’s Las Vegas facilities and two related lawsuits and one filing pending. None of the suits name Marlon individually.  

AAC says its death per patients treated ratio is ten times better than the industry average, though AAC has not provided data to substantiate the claim as of publication.

“AAC’s Compliance Department found that, for the most recent full five-year period, sentinel events at the company’s facilities occur at a rate of one death for every 4,274 discharges – 10 times less frequent than the industry average shown in a 2010 SAMHSA study, which was one for every 422 client discharges,” says an AAC website to which the Current was referred by the company.

A sentinel event is defined by the Joint Commission, an accreditation group, as “an unexpected occurrence involving death or serious physical or psychological injury.”

“The company successfully treated thousands of patients over more than 11 years,” Marlon, who declined to be interviewed beyond answering written questions submitted to his campaign, said in a statement to the Current.  “During that time the percentage of patients who were treated for the most deadly, powerful addictions, heroin and fentanyl, skyrocketed. AAC wasn’t the cause of these; it was the place to find a solution.”

AAC has been the target of a number of wrongful death lawsuits nationally.  The company’s stock has plummeted from a high of $43.56 a share in June of 2015 to $2.25 Friday.

Asked if his departure from AAC has anything to do with the company’s problems, Marlon declined to say.

Connor Johnson committed suicide by hanging himself at AAC’s Desert Hope facility in Las Vegas on November 28, 2016, according to the Clark County Coroner.  A negligence lawsuit has been filed against AAC by Johnson’s parents.

“Defendants failed to take basic, minimum precautions to protect residents like Connor from self-harm, ignoring the safety measures that a reasonable person would find most obvious.  Specifically, Defendants allowed Connor to maintain unfettered possession of his leather belt despite knowing that just one month earlier he was hospitalized after being found with a leather belt around his neck,” the suit alleges.

Marlon declined to say what steps the facility took to ensure Johnson’s safety, given his history of suicide attempts.

“While I can’t comment on specifics, I can tell you addiction is a horrible disease and misguided vilifying of the helpers makes getting help even harder,” Marlon said.

Joseph Nicolosi, 25, died in February 2018 of multiple drug intoxication, according to the Clark County Coroner. Nicolosi was a client at Resolutions, a sober-living home operated by AAC.  

April Leeming was 33-years-old when she died in September 2018 at AAC’s Desert Hope rehab facility. The cause and manner of her death remain undetermined, according to the coroner.

“AAC cannot comment due to patient privacy laws, including the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 and federal regulations that require confidentiality for people seeking treatment for alcohol and drug addiction,” the company said in a statement.  

AAC and Solutions also face a wrongful death suit filed last year by the mother of 23-year-old Cody Arbuckle, who died from an overdose of anti-diarrhea medication during a 19-day stay in one of Solution’s treatment homes.  Solutions billed Arbuckle for close to $50,000 following his death.

AAC, one of the nation’s largest treatment companies, says 60 percent of its clients remain sober after a year.  That’s twice the industry standard, according to AAC’s website. 

But critics contend for-profit rehab programs have little incentive for patients to succeed, but rather to fail and return, even multiple times a year.

The U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce is investigating allegations of widespread wrongdoing in the rehab industry, including allegations of a scheme that “creates an incentive for relapse and profit rather than treatment and, ultimately, sobriety” and noting that[M]ultiple articles highlight individuals known as ‘body brokers’ or ‘patient brokers’ who are treating men and women fighting opioid addiction as a commodity.”

AAC has denied allegations of patient brokering.

Las Vegas is a favorite recovery destination for the millions of Americans who are addicted to drugs and alcohol, but the state’s lack of regulations makes vital information about rehab facilities hard to come by.

“Sentinel events are notified to Joint Commission and the state at licensed facilities,” Marlon wrote in response to a question about whether deaths should be reported to regulators.

He declined to clarify his response when notified by the Current that only medical facilities are required to report sentinel events.

“For Solution’s Recovery, the death would necessarily be reported to the coroner’s office, but there’s not a requirement for reporting elsewhere,” said Martha Framsted, spokeswoman for the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services.

Nevada law requires non-medical rehab facilities to report disasters including fires to the state, but not the deaths of patients. Client deaths, which are only reported to the coroner, often go unnoticed by the public and undisclosed by the facility, as is the case with Solutions and Resolutions.

Under Marlon’s direction, Solutions Recovery opened a number of in-patient homes, where clients remained for weeks or months at a time, travelling daily to counseling and 12-step meetings throughout the valley.  

Solutions’ website advertised “luxury amenities” at its treatment homes.

A July 2015 inspection report from the State of Nevada revealed less than luxurious conditions at 3141 Pioneer Way, one of the homes owned by the company, and where 23 year-old Cody Arbuckle would be found dead two years later.

Observations by the state included multiple holes in ceilings, dirty conditions and damage to walls and doors:

“The dining room carpet had dirt/debris and large stains. – The backyard had an accumulation of mattresses, full trash bags, ciggarette (sp) butts on the ground on the south side of the yard near the trash cans. … Based on observation and interview, the facility failed to ensure the kitchen was maintained. The first aid kit must include, without limitation: (e) A shield or mask to be used by a person who is administering cardiopulmonary resuscitation. On 7/9/15 in the afternoon, the House Manager was not able to locate a shield/mask. This was a repeat deficiency from the initial state licensure survey dated 1/23/14.”

Inspectors also found the facility failed to meet tuberculosis testing requirements for five out of ten clients as well as its Director of Patient Care.  

State inspections of other Solutions homes revealed similar conditions, as well as furniture blocking exits, and “several piles of tree branches in the backyard and a pile of pipes.“  The facility was instructed to formulate a correction plan but not sanctioned by the state.

Marlon last year attributed the state of disrepair to a $2 million renovation.

A spokesman for AAC says the company is moving away from the individual home model fostered by Marlon in favor of an institutional setting.  

Marlon is a licensed alcohol and drug counselor.  He was arrested in 2012 when his wife at the time claimed domestic violence, the result, Marlon says, of her alleged addiction.

“My former wife was in recovery at the time.  She suffered a serious relapse,” Marlon said in a statement to the Current.  “I used a textbook approach and flushed her drugs down the toilet. She called the police and claimed domestic abuse.  I was never charged and the records were sealed.”

“I have never been in treatment or recovery,” Erin Marlon told the Current, via email. “I’ve never had any drug and alcohol related problems or charges.  No DUIs, arrests, anything.”

Note: This story has been updated with comment from David Marlon’s ex-wife.

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Dana Gentry
Dana Gentry

Dana Gentry is a native Las Vegan and award-winning investigative journalist. She is a graduate of Bishop Gorman High School and holds a Bachelor's degree in Communications from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Gentry began her career in broadcasting as an intern at Channel 8, KLAS-TV. She later became a reporter at Channel 8, working with Las Vegas TV news legends Bob Stoldal and the late Ned Day. Gentry left her reporting job in 1985 to focus on motherhood. She returned to TV news in 2001 to launch "Face to Face with Jon Ralston" and the weekly business programs In Business Las Vegas and Vegas Inc, which she co-anchored with Jeff Gillan. Dana has four adult children, two grandsons, three dogs, three cats and a cockatoo named Casper.