DRO Investigates Systemic and Cultural Issues at Sequel Pomegranate Health Systems

June 22, 2020

Disability Rights Ohio (DRO)applauds the recent administrative action taken by the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (OhioMHAS) against Sequel Pomegranate’s residential treatment facility in Columbus, Ohio. The action comes on the heels of a nine-month investigation DRO conducted into the culture surrounding the treatment of children at Sequel Pomegranate, a 74-bed Residential Treatment Facility (RTF) and 20-bed Acute Psychiatric Hospital in Columbus. Both the RTF and Acute Psychiatric Hospital are licensed by OhioMHAS. DRO’s investigation focused primarily on the RTF and uncovered serious and systemic cases of abuse and neglect, violations of safety and treatment standards, inappropriate use of restraint, peer-to-peer bullying and staff intimidation, and overall infringement of civil rights. Disability Rights Ohio continues to investigate incidents occurring at the facility.

“Beginning in June 2019, DRO received reports of physical abuse and bullying within Sequel Pomegranate. Holding the rights of children at the center of our work, we could not ignore the pervasive and disturbing problems embedded in the treatment culture at the facility,” said Amy Price, Disability Rights Ohio Advocate. “We began investigating incidents within the RTF and, to date, have reviewed hundreds of records including incident reports, video footage, and children’s treatment files. In addition, we made three unannounced visits to the RFT to observe, first-hand, treatment of the children, as well as to interview many of them regarding their own personal experience of their treatment at the facility.” Throughout DRO’s investigation, Sequel Pomegranate received continuous scrutiny by news media, Franklin County Children’s Services, OhioMHAS and the Ohio Department of Health.

DRO’s investigation found that children there to receive treatment were, instead, exposed to:

  •   Unapproved and painful restraint techniques and physical abuse that included chokeholds and punches.
  •   Problematic staff behavior, including little staff intervention during peer bullying and fighting, and instances of probable staff encouragement and direction.
  •   A poorly supervised, unstructured, re-traumatizing environment lacking programming and containing disturbing levels of staff bullying, intimidation and lack of boundaries.
  •   A failure by agency leadership to provide a safe, trauma-informed culture for childhood survivors of physical, sexual and emotional abuse.
  •   A failure to protect children’s rights through an unbiased, client-directed grievance process.

While DRO’s investigation was in progress, OhioMHAS conducted surveys and reviewed videos of Sequel Pomegranate’s Acute Psychiatric Hospital. As a result, on Nov. 1, 2019, OhioMHAS proposed a suspension of Sequel Pomegranate’s license to operate the hospital. The findings identified numerous and inappropriate uses of unapproved restraint techniques, instances of physically abusive behaviors, violations of children’s rights to receive reasonable protections from physical abuse, and failure to provide follow-up care when abuses occurred. Despite nine months of investigation, DRO was unable to conclude that the protection of the rights of children at Sequel Pomegranate had improved, notwithstanding many recommendations that could have contributed towards better treatment options at the facility. The organization’s culture appears to be deeply embedded with harmful and shaming practices, which result in a lack of emotional and physical safety, an absence of empowerment, dignity and respect through the organization’s grievance process, and lack of healing, safe relationships with staff members.

“All children deserve to receive treatment in a violence-free, nurturing environment,”

Kerstin Sjoberg, Disability Rights Ohio Executive Director concluded, “We are pleased that OhioMHAS is now fully addressing the systemic failures of Sequel Pomegranate in order to provide a safe, structured, secure place that supports children in their treatment and helps to facilitate their recovery. DRO call on OhioMHAS, Child Protective Services, and other referrals agencies to ensure all available steps are implemented to prevent future risk and harm to children receiving services at Sequel Pomegranate.”

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