St. Louis County treatment center chief expanding to California despite lawsuits

St. Louis Post-Dispatch/April 5, 2012

Mark Schwartz, who has been sued twice for allegedly brainwashing patients at Castlewood Treatment Center for eating disorders in west St. Louis County, plans to open a new, 12-bed facility in northern California this summer.

Schwartz and his wife, Lori Galperin, plan to "transition to California and focus on opening the new program. As a result, they will no longer run Castlewood on a day-to-day basis," according to a job listing from search firm Witt/Kieffer. The firm is looking for a new CEO of Castlewood to improve the company's market position nationally.

A spokesman for Castlewood said that Galperin will run the California center while Schwartz stays primarily in St. Louis, and that the couple have planned to expand to California since 2006.

The center in California is now a bed-and-breakfast on a scenic road through the Monterey Peninsula overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The Inn at 213 Seventeen Mile Drive is still taking reservations for its 14 guest rooms through the summer. The 1920s Craftsman style home is "celebrated for its stylish ambiance in a garden setting" with room rates between $115 and $325, according to its website.

Castlewood West gained preliminary approval from the Pacific Grove planning commission in January to convert the bed-and-breakfast to an inpatient center pending licensure from the California health department, according to public records. A health department spokesman did not know the status of Castlewood West's license application.

Within the last five months, Lisa Nasseff and Leslie Thompson, both of Minnesota, filed separate lawsuits in St. Louis County Circuit Court against Castlewood and Schwartz with similar allegations that they were brainwashed into believing they had been involved in satanic cults and implanted with false memories of sexual abuse during their stays between 2007 and 2010. According to Thompson's suit, she was led to believe she had been possessed by the devil and participated in the killing of a baby.

Both lawsuits claim Schwartz was motivated to keep the women at Castlewood for lengthy periods because their insurance covered their medical bills, which topped $600,000 each.

Castlewood has hired a Los Angeles public relations firm, and Schwartz denied the allegations in the lawsuits through a spokesman.

The lawsuits prompted several other women to share similar stories of being implanted with false memories at Castlewood.

"There's some concern that the same thing is going to happen out there" in California, said Ken Vuylsteke of Webster Groves, attorney for Nasseff and Thompson.

Jeanene Harlick of California stayed at Castlewood for nearly 10 months from 2006 to 2007. Last August, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that her insurance company, Blue Shield, had to pay for the residential therapy based on California's parity law that requires equal coverage of mental and physical illnesses.

Residential stays at Castlewood cost $1,100 a day and last an average of two to four months, according to its website.

At least two other women from California who were treated at Castlewood in Missouri wrote letters of support for its expansion to the West Coast.

"I benefitted from it so much," said Lydia Arce, 25, of Oakland, Calif., who said her life was saved by staying at Castlewood in 2008 and 2009. "I'm so happy that they're going to be doing something in California just because it's super necessary. I've been in recovery in the Bay Area for about three years now, and the resources available are kind of slim."

Arce said she had not been aware of the lawsuits before the Post-Dispatch contacted her but said they did not change her opinion of Schwartz or Castlewood.

Since the campus overlooking Castlewood State Park opened about 12 years ago, more than 1,000 clients have stayed at Castlewood, many of them after failing to recover at other facilities, according to a statement from a spokesman.

Schwartz has been licensed as a marriage and family therapist in California since July 2011 and has no disciplinary actions on his record. In Missouri, he is licensed as a psychologist with a clear record.

Galperin is licensed in Missouri as a clinical social worker. She plans to apply for a license in California, according to a spokesman.

Therapists at Castlewood use a technique called internal family systems, which involves encouraging patients to improve the parts of themselves that are destructive, according to former patients and the center's website.

Several experts in eating disorders have said internal family systems is not the standard of care in part because of the psychological vulnerability of patients who are malnourished.

Nasseff said she attempted suicide at Castlewood by using a butter knife to break into a medicine cabinet and take prescription pills. After the suicide attempt, Nasseff left Castlewood but came back within months.

"Ironically the only place I felt safe for a while was at Castlewood," Nasseff said. "I was so convinced that the cult was waiting for me back at home, and (Schwartz) kept saying he was really the only person who could help."

Nasseff said that since leaving Castlewood for the last time, she has worried about their current and future patients.

"I just don't want anyone else to get hurt," she said. "I don't want to see families destroyed."

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