KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Brookhaven Retreat, a nationally recognized private center that offered mental health and substance abuse treatment for women, abruptly closed Tuesday, forcing five clients to leave and some 40 employees to go without pay.
10News spoke Wednesday with five employees who said operator Jacqueline Dawes sent out a notice Tuesday morning that the center on I.C. King Road in Blount County would shut its doors by the end of the day. Everyone had until then to clean up and clear out.
Matthew Parriott, spokesman for the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, which licensed the facility, said the state had about the same amount of warning. The state had just inspected Brookhaven last month and had received no complaints about it, Parriott said.
Five clients in residence suddenly had to end their treatment and return home, Parriott and others told 10News. Brookhaven was licensed to care for 30 some patients.
Dawes sent a note to employees at 8:35 a.m. Tuesday that the center would be closing at 5 p.m. because of "circumstances beyond our control."
"We apologize for the disruption in services and for any convenience (sic) this may cause."
Dawes could not be reached Wednesday for comment. Brookhaven's website was blank by Wednesday afternoon.
Many employees saw it as an ominous sign Friday, March 1, when they weren't paid for two weeks of work. Some were told then it was because Brookhaven was in the process of being acquired, an assurance they now consider to be a lie.
Melissa Galant, a nurse there since 2014, was among those who hasn't been paid.
"I have prepared myself that I will never see what wages I am owed," she wrote to 10News. "It will be tough for a while, but I will be OK financially, but some of my co-workers will not be. They were scrambling to have gas or grocery money when we didn’t get paid."
A group that included former nurses, housekeepers and supervisors planned Thursday to meet with a lawyer to review their options.
Brookhaven had a reputation for treating -- very discretely -- women clients, many wealthy and well known, from across the United States and beyond. Dawes liked to tout the benefits of her "Lily Program".
Monthly treatment at the beatific site cost about $50,000 with a recommended stay of 90 days.
Brookhaven employed respected area psychiatrists and therapists and consulted routinely with experts from Yale University and Johns Hopkins University.
It offered equine therapy, gardening and the peace of the nearby Great Smoky Mountains.
It also had a reputation for offering employees some of the best pay for such centers in Tennessee.
But employees also criticized Dawes for driving them too hard, making them work long hours without proper compensation. In 2016, some employees sued Dawes and Brookhaven in an action that ended up being transferred to U.S. District Court in Knoxville.
The Fair Labor Standards lawsuit by Susan Campbell, Sarah B. Bohannon, Ana Garcia-Smith, Casandra Henley, Candice R. Sellers-Spires, Karen White and Kristy Morical was settled in December 2017 for an undisclosed amount after mediation, records show.
Dana Hornby worked as clinical administrator at Brookhaven in 2015. She said she loved working with clients and enjoyed the setting and the chance to consult with top experts in the field.
But Dawes was so demanding she could only take about six months, Hornby said.
"Things had gotten very, very crazy when I left," she said.
A couple employees said a federal labor official came to the site Tuesday.
"Our health insurance was not paid for in February," Galant wrote. "It was canceled and took 2 weeks for it to be reinstated. I heard from other co-workers that bill collectors were calling. I heard we owed the gas company 5k and they would not be back until it was taken care of."
Dawes owns a mansion on Parsonage Lane off Gov. John Sevier Highway in Knox County that's now listed for sale at $8.4 million. Dubbed Bellamont, it had been listed last year and then was taken off the market, employees said.
This week has been hard on Brookhaven employees, said one housekeeper.
"It's been pretty rough," she said. "It was my only income. It was just unexpected -- no warning."