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Records: State, county knew of problems at Columbus psychiatric facility for teens

Child advocates, parents and former teenaged residents of the facility tell 10 Investigates that approach misses the larger picture – that the issues there are systemic.

COLUMBUS (WBNS) – Both state and county children’s services agencies have known about problems inside Sequel Pomegranate for years, records show, but the private facility has faced little recourse.

Instead, the agencies often issue individual plans of correction.

Child advocates, parents and former teenaged residents of the facility tell 10 Investigates that approach misses the larger picture – that the issues there are systemic.

The state’s Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services licenses Sequel Pomegranate, the privately-run psychiatric and behavioral health facility for teens.

In past two years, the department has recorded several incidents and issued plans of correction for issues including the improper use of restraints on teens and the overuse of antipsychotic medications.

“They lay you over on your side and then they give it to you in your side, that's why they call it the booty juice,” said one former Pomegranate teen, interviewed by 10 Investigates on Monday. “They basically are like we are going to knock you out with the booty juice. And then go straight to sleep.”

The teen asked that her identity be concealed. 10 Investigates confirmed through records that she has attended Sequel Pomegranate. While she claims she was never injected with antipsychotic medication, she claims the use of drugs like Haldol was quite common during her stay there.

When asked directly if she has seen kids be injected, the teen said: “yes.”

10 Investigates found a 2018 plan of correction issued by OHMAS in which the state agency criticized Sequel Pomegranate for its use of restraints and medications.

Inspectors noted that "there were multiple incidents where youth was placed in a restraints ... without sufficient documentation."

The state also found "youths stating that after receiving shots, that they felt sleepy and stating they needed to lay down and sleep. One youth... pleaded with staff not to give the shot, but was given the shot while being held down."

A spokeswoman for Sequel Pomegranate referred 10 Investigates to previously issued statements. The first of which was issued on July 11 and alleged that teens sometime make up allegations in order to get out of the program. A follow-up statement issued to 10 Investigates by Sequel Pomegranate’s outside counsel, Catherine Cownie, read in part:

“Sequel Pomegranate takes every allegation of assault or violence seriously and strictly complies with its legal and ethical responsibilities to report and investigate such incidents. Sequel Pomegranate always cooperates with regulatory, law enforcement, and oversight agencies charged with investigating such allegations. However, Sequel Pomegranate’s obligations to the children and adolescents in their care prohibit them from publicly commenting on such allegations.

As a covered entity under HIPAA, Sequel Pomegranate is prohibited from disclosing an individual’s protected health information without consent of the individual or, if the individual is a minor, their parents. Obviously, this includes information about diagnosis and treatment, but it also includes information that would confirm the specific child is receiving, or has received, care in one of its facilities. As such, if an allegation includes any information that could be used to identify an individual, Sequel Pomegranate is legally prohibited from making any comment without proper authorizations or releases.”

A months-long investigation by 10 Investigates found that children and staffers inside the facility have been exposed to incidents of violence and sexual abuse. In some cases, children have attacked each other. In others, staffers and teens have been both the victims and perpetrators.

Our investigation included a review of more than 400 calls for police service dating back to 2017, police reports, 911 calls, police body-camera footage, and state incident reports submitted to both Franklin County Children’s Services and the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, which licenses Sequel Pomegranate.

Among our findings, since 2017:

  • There have been 125 incidents of kids going absent without leave
  • Police have responded to 77 disturbances calls, 36 assault reports and 14 alleged sexual assaults
  • There have been substantiated cases of teen-on-teen violence and teen-on-teen sexual assaults
  • There have been 24 incidents of staffers being accused of improper restraints; 11 of those staffers were either fired or retrained
  • Police reports detail injures to staffers by teens, “riots” and kids in the ceiling of the facility

Franklin County Children’s Services said that the incidents at Sequel Pomegranate were not acceptable but the agency has no plans to suspend its contract with Sequel Pomegranate – each year the facility gets about $5 million from FCCS.

Sequel Pomegranate houses about 90 children in its in-patient facility.

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