COLUMBUS, Ohio – During a Wednesday press conference, Gov. Mike DeWine and other top officials were asked about Ohio’s continued partnership with a business accused of physical and sexual abuse.
DeWine and several state officials, including Mental Health and Addition Services Director Lori Criss, introduced a new Department being created via Executive Order – the Ohio School Safety Center. The purpose of the center is to combat potential school violence by monitoring social media, training school staff, and working with experts like mental health professionals.
During the press conference, the mental health component came into question when issues were raised about the state continuing to do business with SEQUEL-Pomegranate Health Systems of Franklin County. An investigation by 10TV last month uncovered evidence of physical and sexual abuse.
The psychiatric hospital on the south side of Columbus is an inpatient facility that serves Central Ohio youth ages twelve to seventeen.
“SEQUEL-Pomegranate Health Systems provides an intensive level of therapy that is both evidence-based and from a trauma-informed care perspective. Assessments are multi-disciplinary under direction of psychiatrists,” their website states.
According to 10TV investigative reporter Bennett Haeberle, his investigation took months and “found children have been subjected to acts of violence and sexual abuse inside a facility meant to help them.” The probe dug into more than 400 calls to police as well as records from fire, police and children’s services at both the county and state level going back to 2017.
The review confirmed documented cases of sexual abuse and violence perpetrated by staff against teen patients and also by patients against staff. At least 125 incidents of teens running away from the hospital were discovered, as well as 36 incidents of physical assaults and 14 sexual assaults.
“Both state and county children’s services agencies have known about problems inside SEQUEL-Pomegranate for years, records show, but the private facility has faced little recourse,” 10TV posted.
Haeberle questioned DeWine about the situation during Wednesday’s press conference.
“I have a question about children who are a threat to themselves and who have been a threat to others. For weeks we have reported on a facility, SEQUEL-Pomegranate, you had Director Criss go visit. Recently during that visit she declared [it] to be ‘clean, safe and therapeutic.’ Since that time we’ve received reports that there have been additional reports of sexual abuse, violence, kids running away. I’m wondering how we can declare that place safe,” he said.
“We have taken your reports seriously,” DeWine responded. “We have had not only regular visits but we’ve had a surprise visit and the Director can share with you what we have.” He deferred to Criss.
Director Criss confirmed that she visited personally and followed up with a surprise visit.
“…Our reviewers came back and they endorsed what I saw,” she told reporters. “They found that therapeutic care was happening in a clean and safe environment. That did not mean that we did not find some things that were of concern, and that we’re working further on those concerns.”
Less than 24 hours after the press conference 10TV announced, “A state agency has ordered that SEQUEL-Pomegranate fix issues after a surprise visit by state inspectors last week revealed that the psychiatric facility for teens failed to report a sexual assault allegation from June and may have improperly restrained children for unnecessary reasons.”
Providing mental health services for struggling youth was a significant component of both the $675 million in the budget for “Student Success and Wellness” and for the new Ohio Student Safety Center.
An email request from The Ohio Star asking Haeberle what precipitated the investigation went unanswered.
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