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LVHN transfers doctor; county policies remain unchanged

At the Sept. 27 Lehigh County board of commissioners meeting, Commissioner Geoff Brace said the board is still waiting for a response from solicitor David Backenstoe regarding the board’s ability to change Children & Youth Services procedures regarding the investigation of child abuse reports. He said he hopes to have a response by the next meeting, scheduled for Oct. 25.

Brace, who told the Press via email that he would like to discuss CYS issues on the phone, but has not yet called the number provided to him Aug. 28, told meeting attendees that the board’s human services committee would likely handle any actions to be taken. Bob Elbich is the current chairman of that committee, but will be stepping down at the end of the year.

According to the Pa. Dept. of Human Services, counties are responsible for developing their own policies regarding child abuse investigations. Spokespeople from Pa. DHS told the Press, “The state’s Child Protective Services Law makes the county children and youth services agency the sole civil agency responsible for investigating all reports of child abuse, and counties may develop individual policies and procedures for the handling of child protective services investigations as long as those policies and procedures remain in compliance with state statue and regulation […] ChildLine transmits reports to the appropriate investigative agency, which can include a county children and youth agency, but can also include DHS’ Office of Children, Youth and Families Regional Office, and/or law enforcement.”

The public comment portion of the meeting was once again filled with members of the community clamoring for change.

Although families who allege mistreatment at the hands of CYS named a specific individual as responsible for their poor experiences, they also decried the Lehigh County investigation procedures. One such practice is CYS’s use of an LVHN doctor at the Van Brakle Child Advocacy Center to review reports initiated by colleagues at LVHN. Although LVHN removed the head of the Van Brakle CAC in early September, she remains on staff at the hospital. Perhaps more significant, both the child abuse assessment procedures (“Every child, every time”) and the self-evaluation process of LVHN-generated abuse reports, remain in place, and continue to generate income for the hospital.

Families’ insurance plans are billed for the medical tests and consultations ordered by LVHN CAC staff to evaluate the child abuse reports initiated by LVHN personnel. One common thread in families’ public statements at county meetings has been the overabundance of testing done to children evaluated by the CAC – including completely asymptomatic siblings of allegedly abused children – from CT scans to dozens of full-body X-rays per child. “Room and board” charges alone, for children held at LVHN for days without their parents’ consent, can amount to upward of $10,000, paid to the hospital by parents’ insurance companies, as seen on insurance company explanations of benefits (EOBs) viewed by the Press.

Families’ concerns were summed up in a public comment by Alyx Patton, a licensed clinical social worker who was a kinship parent to one of the affected children. After listing the problems that public commenters brought to the commissioners’ attention on Aug. 23 – including “parents routinely banned from LVHN without an investigation or a legal process; children […] held for days against the parents’ will; abuse of the emergency custody process” – she chided Brace and the other commissioners for their lack of action and what she viewed as a deflection of the families’ concerns.

“Frankly, it’s insulting to every parent here that you tried to spin the narrative of the parents’ tragedy,” Patton said, reminding the board, “You have a contract with this hospital. You are paying for this to happen to families. You are funding abuse to these families, harm to children, and the misuse of power.”