Philadelphia Personal Injury Lawyers: Wordsworth Facility Failed to Provide Help Clients Needed
May 3, 2017
In the fall of 2016, an adolescent treatment center in Philadelphia was closed after the death of a seventeen-year-old boy was ruled as a homicide. Reports of multiple sexual and physical assaults were not enough to shut the treatment facility, Wordsworth, down. Even among horrifying reports and allegations, the facility stayed open and received government funding.
Each year, Wordsworth received nearly $200,000 per child under its care. Children as young as 10 up to 21-years-old lived at the facility for behavioral treatment, or for the need of a roof over their heads. In total, the center was given millions of dollars a year, allocated money on state, federal and city levels. Philadelphia’s DHS chapter was responsible for ensuring that children were being taken care of and monitoring their cases. On a state level, DHS was supposed to be doing routine inspections to decide whether or not to continue licensing the facility. Lastly, a citywide non-profit called Community Behavioral Health (CBH), which oversees all mental-health services throughout Philadelphia, was also supposed to be monitoring the facility. Because of failures on federal, state and city levels, the health, wellbeing and lives of disadvantaged or trouble kids and teens was completely ignored. Until a teenage boy was killed during an altercation with staff members, no one paid attention to what was happening there.
The chief executive at CBH said in a statement that the city depended on Wordsworth to provide shelter and care for kids with behavioral problems, claiming it was the only facility that would take in cases that other facilities found “too hard” or “too complicated”. Yet CBH continued to give Wordsworth $6 million annually even after multiple allegations of sexual abuse and rape had surfaced.
Thanks to an investigation by the Philadelphia Inquirer, it turns out that police had been called to Wordsworth 800 times in the last ten years alone. Complaints of sexual indecent exposure, corrupting the morals of a minor, rape and physical abuse had been lodged. Over 51 reports were filed while the facility continued to receive money from the city, state and country. The Inquirer reached out to victims, many of whom said that when they had reported various assaults to staff members that no one had believed them.
Some believe that in recent years Wordsworth had grown too large, simply allowing the abuse of children to slip through the cracks. The facility claimed that it provided care to nearly 60,000 children and families in need. In 2012, 2013, 2015 and 2016, DHS issued Wordsworth citations for failing to sufficiently train staff members on how to manage and care for children. For example, this training included instructing staff members on how to safely and effectively restrain a patient.
Many families of young victims have now decided to sue Wordsworth, their allegations ranging from staff members pulling and dragging patients out of their rooms, culminating in a broken bone requiring surgical repair, to the use of “unusually harsh force”, which resulted in a broken jaw. Some of the lawsuits have been settled with Wordsworth paying the injured party’s thousands of dollars for damages.
Wordsworth also failed to supervise patients as they were legally obligated to. Some younger patients in particular came to the facility after committing crimes, being court ordered to remain under one-on-one supervision with staff members. Yet, staff members failed to supervise teenage patients and at least on one occasion, a sixteen-year-old boy was sexually assaulted due to this extreme lack of care.
It is difficult not to ask how Wordsworth remained operational as children without homes came under its care, suffering serious abuse, neglect and even death. How did a seventeen-year-old boy lose his life while he was at the facility? The boy, David Hess, died over allegations of a stolen iPod. Staff members entered his room one night, and when Hess became upset and due to his emotional issues, slightly combative, staff members held him down. Reports of a staff person reportedly punching the boy in the chest surfaced. At the end of the incident, Hess had died from suffocation.
Before Hess was killed, The Defenders Association of Philadelphia (DAP) had flagged Wordsworth for highly concerning and troubling reports of abuse. Representatives from DHS joined the attorney-run DAP. Both agencies urged Wordsworth to install cameras, improve staff member training and fix the facility’s physical condition. Wordsworth agreed, but dangerous problems remained.
The DHS even received a direct report of rape through its own children’s abuse hotline, called Childline. Just one month after the agency received the complaint, it renewed Wordsworth’s license of operation. Repeated, gross failures on the federal, state and city levels contributed to the abuse, suffering and even the death of children at the facility. These were children who had emotional and behavioral problems or came from lower class families. Staff members ignored their complaints and agencies intended to help the public turned their backs on their suffering. Philadelphia’s already at-risk youth population was abused and ignored for years until the consequences became too large to sweep under the rug.
The children under Wordsworth’s care suffered years of abuse culminating in the loss of a life and all because they were disabled, troubled or impoverished. Had the non-profits and governmental agencies ensured the safety of the patient population, as was their legal responsibility, lives could have been protected and even saved. Too often are people in need undervalued, and what happened at Philadelphia’s Wordsworth facility is a terrifying example of this.
Philadelphia Personal Injury Lawyers at Galfand Berger, LLP Help Injured Victims Pursue Compensation
If you have any questions, please call the knowledgeable Philadelphia personal injury lawyers at Galfand Berger, LLP. With offices located in Philadelphia, Reading, Lancaster and Bethlehem, we serve clients throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey. To schedule a consultation, call us at 800-222-8792 or complete our online contact form.