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Physician at center of recent protest is reassigned



The doctor who was at the center of a recent protest by parents who had their children removed from their homes, has been reassigned at Lehigh Valley Health Network.

Dr. Debra Esernio-Jenssen, a pediatrician, was the former director of the John Van Blake Child Advocacy Center, a program that assesses child abuse allegations.

LVHN recently emailed the following statement to The Press.

“Sarah Kleinle, DO, was named medical director of the John Van Brakle Child Advocacy Center after a nearly yearlong national search,” the email stated. “Dr. Kleinle officially started her new position earlier this month.

“Dr. Kleinle will lead the team of physicians responsible for performing medical evaluations for children who are referred to the CAC.

“The CAC serves Lehigh County’s most vulnerable children and their families through a multidisciplinary community partnership that provides evaluations, treatment and a coordinated response to promote justice.

“Dr. Kleinle completed her medical degree at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, her residency in pediatrics at Crozer-Chester Medical Center and her fellowship in child abuse pediatrics at Cooper Hospital-University Medical “Center.

“Dr. Kleinle assumed the role formerly held by Debra D. Esernio-Jenssen, MD, who dedicated many years of service at the CAC.

“Dr. Esernio-Jenssen will be providing care part time in other network locations.”

Kimberly Steltz, co-founder of Parents’ Medical Rights Group of the Lehigh Valley, emailed the following comment to The Press after hearing news of Dr. Esernio-Jenssen’s reassignment.

“We are happy that Dr. Debra Esernio-Jenssen is no longer heading up the CAC,” Steltz said.

“This is a move that should have happened years ago.

“While this is a start, this is not enough to rectify the situation nor protect the community.

“More changes are needed, including at Children Youth Services. Dr. Debra Esernio-Jenssen could not have done what she did without the cooperation of CYS.

“When an apple is rotten to the core, removing a piece of that apple does not make the apple any less rotten. For now, we enjoy this initial victory. Next week, we will continue our work.”

Steltz spoke with The Press on Aug. 30 during a protest outside the CAC office at Lehigh Valley Hospital, 17th and Chew Street, Allentown.

She was asked how Dr. Esernio-Jenssen’s actions affected her family.

“Within 30 hours of taking our oldest son to the emergency room for help, Dr. Esernio-Jenssen and her child protection team alleged that my husband and I medically abused our son without ever meeting us,” Steltz said.

She said the reason they took their son to the hospital on May 20, 2022, was because he was in crisis with declining medical health.

“When I was called by CYS and told I was being accused of medical child abuse, I didn’t really know what it was,” Steltz explained. “It is not something that lawyers frequently advertise they deal with.

“I found Attorney Beth Alison Maloney’s name as a national expert in medical child abuse. So, I reached out to her around the time of the accusation and connected with her. “

She said the state withdrew its petition after a yearlong court battle in the middle of the trial on May 22.

The Press asked where her children were now and how the family is doing.

“My youngest is home with us and my 18-year-old is an adult and living with someone else right now,” Steltz said.

“Everybody is absolutely traumatized, and our family is fractured and broken.

‘We are right now trying to get through this by being patient with one another because everybody handles this differently in the family.

“One day I might have a good day, the next day my husband might have a bad day.

“And so, we are being patient with one another, supporting one another as this is a traumatic event that has touched every part of our life. “

Steltz said she and others at the protest do not want any other mothers or fathers in the same situation.

“The hospital hired Dr. Esernio-Jenssen,” Steltz said. “She came to Pennsylvania and caused a lot of damage.

“And we want the hospital to be responsible for that and to protect the community so that nobody else ends up with false allegations, trauma, and broken families.”

Maloney spoke during the protest.

“I’m an attorney and author and a national expert in medical kidnapping cases,” she said. “ ... I’m going to be working with the Parents’ Medical Rights Group and we are going to develop a Family Bill of Rights because most parents and caregivers do not know that when a caseworker shows up at the front door and says you must take your child to the Child Advocacy Center, they, the parents do not have to comply.”

Maloney explained there is a mistaken perspective that the Child Advocacy Center is law enforcement.

“They are not, they are supposed to work with CYS in supporting families, not destroying families,” she said.

“Please understand when a case worker tells you that you have to do that, that you don’t have a choice, that you must do that, that is not something that you must do.

“And secondly, you are entitled to a lawyer. So, when a caseworker tells you that you are not entitled to a lawyer or that they are going to start making decisions that work against you if you get a lawyer, this is also unlawful.”

PRESS PHOTOS BY SUSAN BRYANT Kimberly Steltz, of Emmaus, co-founder of the Parents' Medical Rights Group of the Lehigh Valley addresses those gathered Aug. 30 to protest against Dr. Debra Esernio-Jenssen outside the John Van Brakle Child Advocacy Center at Lehigh Valley Hospital, 17th and Chew streets, Allentown.
Steve Steltz joins his wife, Kimberly, who shared their family's story about Dr. Debra Esernio-Jenssen and the Child Advocacy Center with The Press.
Attorney Beth Alison Maloney told The Press at the protest law in Maine and California, so she worked on Steve and Kimberly Steltz's case with Attorney Stephanie L. Cesare from Abom and Kutulakis LLC, Carlisle, Cumberland County.