COLUMBUS, Ohio — No children are currently being housed at Sequel Pomegranate – the embattled psychiatric facility for teens that’s been plagued by incidents of violence and allegations of abuse and neglect.
That’s according to the state and an advocacy group that’s been in talks with the facility.
But where the children went and why they were removed from the psychiatric facility remains a bit of a mystery.
A spokesman for the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services – which licenses the facility – confirmed in an email to 10 Investigates that he had been told “they haven’t had any patients since the end of July.”
Amy Price with Disability Rights Ohio – an advocacy group that has looked into troubles at the facility – said she learned that the children were removed in July but could not provide an explanation.
“I am not sure why the facility made that decision. I do know that should they re-open – they plan to open it with a new care team in place,” Price told 10 Investigates.
Sequel Pomegranate has not responded to multiple email requests for comment sent to a spokesman that represents the facility and its parent company, Sequel Youth and Family Services.
Sources close to the matter say there have also been staff reductions in recent months.
But the effort to remove children once housed there follows a June 12th letter sent by the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services. The letter threatened to suspend admissions and revoke the license of the facility following a pattern of problems including increased COVID-19 cases among staff and youth, a lack of nursing staff on a particular weekend in May and an alleged riot in March that the state says “created an environment in which clients were being violent towards each other and staff, resulting in physical abuse and neglect.”
The state had previously threatened to suspend the license of Sequel Pomegranate earlier this year following an October incident in which a child was struck repeatedly by a nurse during a restraint hold. A nurse and a mental health associate were later fired for their roles in the alleged incident.
In response, Sequel Pomegranate entered into a settlement agreement, promised to fix its troubles, retrain its staff and adopt new practices that don’t encourage restraint holds.
Most recently in July, Sequel Pomegranate had requested a hearing to defend its license – but as of this week – no hearing date had been set and there were no updates to report, according to a spokesman for OHMAS.
10 Investigates first began reporting on incidents of violence and alleged sexual abuse at Sequel Pomegranate last July.
Since that time, incidents of violence and allegations of abuse and neglect have persisted.
Many of the incidents 10 Investigates reported on involved children hurting themselves, their peers or being placed in painful restraint holds by staff meant to subdue them.
There have also been recent incidents in which staffers have been hurt by the teens who reside there - most of them between the ages of 12 and 17.
In March, Columbus police were called to Sequel Pomegranate on the report of a riot. On that day, a staff member suffered a laceration and a broken thumb after an altercation with a teen.
That same day, March 19, a therapist was sent to the hospital after a child bit her and pulled her hair, records submitted to the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services show.
In addressing the incidents of March, OHMAS Director Lori Criss wrote: “The failure of staff to respond to events on March 19 and 21, 2020, created an environment in which clients were being violent towards each other and staff, resulting in physical abuse and neglect.”
In April and May, there were 16 reports submitted to the state of children who had harmed themselves at the psychiatric treatment facility – many of whom required hospital visits or stitches through either cutting themselves with things like pieces of broken toilets or swallowing foreign objects including batteries.
“It makes me sick. I get angry. It is an immediate trigger for me. I’m wanting to know how the state let it happen for so long. FCCS was well aware,” said Traci Ryan, the parent of a former Sequel Pomegranate resident.
Ryan is critical of the facility and alleges that her son was sexually assaulted and later attacked during a week-long stay at the facility in 2018.
The sexual assault allegation was never substantiated, but Ryan maintains that her child endured trauma at Sequel Pomegranate.
Other sexual assault allegations were substantiated – including a 2017 incident in which a young boy alleges he was held down and sexually assaulted by other teens.
The boy sued in federal court and the case was letter settled for an undisclosed amount.
“We have been trying to get Pomegranate shut down for years. And people only started listening once you started bringing it about,” Nikki Chinn with Action Ohio – a foster advocacy group – told 10 Investigates during a July interview.
Chinn – who was not a former resident at Sequel Pomegranate – says the facility and its history of issues are well-known among foster youth in Ohio.
“It is widely known. Like every youth that is in care in Ohio knows about Pomegranate and knows about the danger and abuse and neglect that happens there.”