Coronavirus concerns halt in-person inspections at Sequel Pomegranate

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COLUMBUS, Ohio — The coronavirus has halted in-person inspections at Sequel Pomegranate meaning there are now fewer eyes on the ground inspecting the teen psychiatric facility that's been plagued by incidents of violence and abuse in recent years.

Over the past six months, the teen psychiatric facility has been subjected to both announced and surprise visits from the county, state and an advocacy group.

Those visits began in earnest in August after a 10 Investigates report uncovered hundreds of calls for police service and substantiated cases of teens there being subjected to violence and sexual abuse.

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But because of concerns about the spread of the coronavirus, in-person inspections there have stopped.

Instead, a spokesman for the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, which licenses the teen psychiatric facility, says it’s been conducting telephone interviews to investigate when issues pop up. A spokeswoman for Disability Rights Ohio, an advocacy group which found problems with children being placed in painful restraint holds there – has also stopped in-person inspections.

The state had threatened to strip Sequel Pomegranate of its acute hospital license after an incident in October where a teenage girl was punched and kicked by a nurse while in a restraint hold.

A nurse and a mental health advocate were fired because of the incident.

Sequel Pomegranate later reached a settlement agreement with the state to avoid further sanctions that could have threatened the facility. As part of the agreement, Sequel Pomegranate has promised to fix issues there, re-train staff, creating a zero tolerance policy for staff abuse.

But issues there have continued.

In the month of March alone, there have been incidents that have prompted police responses – including the report of a riot on March 19. A copy of the police report obtained by 10 Investigates states there were “40 kids beating down doors and attacking staff.” A staffer who called 911 told a dispatcher she moved a refrigerator in front of one of the doors, barricading herself in an office.

“It’s bad in here, real bad,” the woman said on the 911 recording. She asked not to be identified or interviewed when contacted by 10 Investigates.

On the phone, the 911 dispatcher can be heard saying: “I don’t know how many medics they’ll need but these kids are attacking them with everything.” As described on the 911 audio, the children became disruptive and started attacking staffers. An employee told police they were short-staffed that day and the children knew it.

In a separate incident earlier this month, police were called to the report of a cutting after a teenager there reportedly used a piece of a broken toilet to cut herself.

In regard to the March 19 incident, Sequel Pomegranate provided 10 Investigates with the following statement:

“We are grateful to our staff and law enforcement for their quick response today during an altercation at our location. We work hard to ensure the safety of those on our campus, and while incidents like this are very unfortunate, we are thankful there were no serious injuries. We will continue to take any and all steps we believe are necessary to provide a safe and supportive environment for our students.”

10 Investigates emailed follow-up questions to a representative for the facility Wednesday and has yet to hear back.

Coronavirus: What you need to know

There are now 31,625 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Ohio; 1,888 people have died from the virus and 5,773 were hospitalized, according to the Ohio Department of Health. Breakdown of Ohio cases by county >>

For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms that clear up in a couple of weeks. Older adults and people with existing health problems are at higher risk of more severe illness, including pneumonia, or death.

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