Commissioners hear testimony from parents whose children were removed from their homes
BY MARIEKE ANDRONACHE
Special to The Press
“This morning, I released a copy of my report titled The Cost of Misdiagnosis,” Lehigh County Controller Mark Pinsley said, at the start of the county commissioners’ Aug. 23 meeting.
Dozens of personal testimonies were heard by the commissioners, each speaker alleging they were wrongly accused by a Lehigh Valley Health Network physician.
“Recently, my office uncovered statistics that made an impact on the county’s finances,” Pinsley explained. “I became aware of a rare disease called Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy.
“This is a disease where a caregiver convinces a child they are sick, often seeking unnecessary medical treatment and intervention.
“Munchausen Syndrome is considered medical child abuse, so Children and Youth Services from Lehigh County provides more than a $30 million budget for and is involved in cases with this disease.”
Pinsley explained 11 percent of the population of the Northeast region of the state, which includes Lehigh and Northampton counties, are children.
They account for 40 percent of the state’s cases of Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy, he said.
Pinsley also addressed the hidden costs of the accusations, from job loss to reputation to family hardships.
This was followed by 150 minutes of personal testimonies in a packed public conference room.
Commissioners listened carefully to each story related to them.
One story recalled an incident where a parent lost balance and dropped an infant resulting in injuries.
In another situation, parents tried to help their choking infant.
These are two examples where the same physician pursued child abuse investigations.
Many spoke of the hardships of dealing with Children and Youth Services, especially if their children were taken away.
Lehigh Valley Justice Institute Executive Director Joe E. Welsh addressed the families.
“I’m a parent,” he said. “I can’t imagine what you’ve gone through. It is the absolute parent’s nightmare.”
As an attorney, he said the possible criminal charges made “his head spin.”
He suggested the Lehigh County District Attorney’s Office open an investigation into the allegations raised at the meeting.
Chairman Geoff Brace closed the public comments part of the meeting.
“The County of Lehigh has a legal and moral obligation to investigate every allegation of child abuse brought forward to county personnel and agencies,” Brace said.
“I don’t think anyone in the room disagrees with that. We will continue to ensure that happens.
“Nonetheless, these concerns must be sent to the Department of Human Services.”