PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Understaffing and inadequate supervision of staff and patients plagued a nonprofit health organization where at least 41 intellectually disabled children have reported sexual assaults over the past quarter-century, a newspaper investigation found.
The Philadelphia Inquirer reported Wednesday that some victims were as young as 12 and had IQs as low as 50 when they said they were assaulted by staff at campuses of Devereux Advanced Behavioral Health, which is headquartered near Philadelphia. The center treats children with intellectual disabilities, mental disorders and trauma.
Ten said they were assaulted at three suburban Philadelphia campuses of Devereux, which has been in existence for more than 100 years and is now the nation’s leading nonprofit health organization of its kind. Others said the abuse occurred at facilities in New Jersey, Texas, Florida, Georgia, Connecticut, New York and Arizona.
Despite $467 million in annual revenues, Devereux understaffed its campuses and failed to adequately supervise its patients and staff members, who all too often disappeared for hours and slept through shifts, the newspaper reported.
When assaults occurred, Devereux identified risk factors and potential solutions such as increased training or employment screenings, only to abandon the initiatives for years, the Inquirer said.
Devereux leaders, noting that a sexual assault can happen in almost any care setting, said that in the last two years they have increased safety and reduced risk by adopting safeguards to prevent such abuse and hold staffers accountable.
But three girls at a Devereux campus in Arizona told police they were sexually abused by a male staff member between October 2018 and March 2019, the newspaper reported. In December, at a facility in Texas, a Devereux staffer was charged with allegedly sexually abusing four children, it said.
The Inquirer said it interviewed scores of former residents, family members, staffers, attorneys, and law enforcement officers and reviewed criminal cases, lawsuits, medical records, incident reports, therapy notes, pay stubs, text messages and police interviews.
Former Chester County prosecutor Chad Maloney, who now represents victims alleging sexual abuse — including one alleging abuse at Devereux — said his experience has been that an individual responsible for physical or sexual abuse at the facility is prosecuted but “the story just ends — Devereux doesn’t change.”
“They don’t change how they hire, how they train, or how they supervise their staff or the children in their care,” he said. “The victims change, the offenders change, but Devereux’s actions never do, and that’s why the abuse continues. It’s heartbreaking and it has to stop.”
Devereux leaders said that since late last year, they have taken aggressive steps to prevent sexual abuse. Officials said they reduced opportunities for staff to be alone with children, trained employees to detect grooming and potential abuse, added video technology to better monitor employees, increased pay to attract more qualified staffers, and planned to screen job applicants with a new psychological test.
“Most of the kids we care for have been traumatized in their life outside of Devereux and the worst possible thing is to have that occur while they’re in a therapeutic environment,” chief executive officer Carl Clark said. “It personally makes my blood boil more than any other thing to think that this happens, and makes us want to do everything in our power to screen people out at the organization who go down this pathway.”
Devereux’s top executives, however, vigorously denied that its campuses had supervision and staffing issues.