KidsPeace: Non-Profit but Still Not Safe

Brief history

The chain of mental health facilities currently now known as KidsPeace originated in Bethlehem, PA in 1882 as an orphanage called The Thurston Home for Children. The name changed a few times and by 1943, it was known as Wiley House—the name it would keep for the next 50 years; the organization changed the name to KidsPeace in 1992.[1]

It is now headquartered in Schnecksville, PA, about 15 miles northwest of Bethlehem.[2]

The organization’s focus of service also changed over time: In 1930, during the Great Depression, Wiley House switched from being an orphanage to handling foster care services. In 1958, “inspired by a children’s rights conference in Washington, DC,” the organization hired a case worker and revised its intake policy. By 1961, children’s mental health services had become Wiley House’s primary focus.[3]

KidsPeace currently owns four inpatient facilities, in Georgia, Maine, and Pennsylvania, and 10 outpatient/partial hospitalization facilities in Maine and Pennsylvania. In New York, KidsPeace is a provider of services under the state Medicaid Child & Family Treatment and Support Services Program, as well as New York Health Homes. (These latter two do not appear to be facilities but rather programs.) KidsPeace is also involved in foster care services—matching up kids with qualified foster parents.  

Though it is a non-profit, KidsPeace has nonetheless demonstrated that it’s facilities are as dangerous for children as any for-profit youth residential psychiatric facility. (See CCHR’s reports on Sequel Youth & Family Services, Strategic Behavioral, and Universal Health Services.)

 

Revenues

KidsPeace publicly reported in 2019 that its annual revenues were $128 million.[4]

 

Facilities

KidsPeace Hospital – Orefield, PA

KidsPeace Residential, Orchard Hills Campus – Orefield, PA

KidsPeace Residential, Georgia Bowdon Campus – Bowdon, GA

KidsPeace Residential, Graham Lake Campus – Ellsworth, ME

KidsPeace/Orchard Behavioral Health (addiction treatment centers) – Sacred Heart Campus and Green Street Campus, Allentown, PA; and Mt. Pocono Campus, Mount Pocono, PA

KidsPeace Maine Educational Services – three locations in Millinocket, Old Town, and Ellsworth, ME.

KidsPeace Outpatient, Berks Campus – Temple, PA

KidsPeace Outpatient, Family Center – Bethlehem, PA 18015

KidsPeace Foster Care – numerous locations including Scranton,

Danville, Harrisburg, Williamsport, Reading, and Duncansville, PA.

KidsPeace Foster Care & Community Programs – 25 locations in IN, MD, ME, NC, NY, PA, and VA.

 

TIMELINE OF ABUSES

November 17, 1993: DEATH – KidsPeace counselor Dean Sine, 29, was charged with involuntary manslaughter in the death of 12-year-old Jason Tallman, whom he restrained by sitting on for approximately 10 minutes, and thus suffocated him. Tallman had been at the facility less than 24 hours. The medical examiner ruled his death a homicide.[5]

May 25, 1995: Though the attorney for KidsPeace counselor Dean Sine felt the involuntary manslaughter charge against his client should be dismissed, asserting that the prosecution did not prove that Sine acted in a reckless or grossly negligent manner, the judge let the charge remain, to be decided by a jury.[6]

May 22, 1996: DEATH – KidsPeace settled out of court for more than $1 million with the family of Jason Tallman, a 12-year-old autistic boy who died while being restrained in a Pennsylvania KidsPeace facility in 1993. Dean Sine was the employee who restrained Tallman and who, at 215 lbs. was said to have sat on the 85-lb. Tallman for 27 minutes as he gasped that he could not breathe. Sine was charged with manslaughter in the incident but was acquitted at trial. Ten years later, Sine was convicted of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse involving numerous assaults on a 14-year-old boy who was the son of an acquaintance. He was sentenced to 3-to-six years in prison and made to register as a sex offender for life. [7]

September 23, 1997: SEXUAL ASSAULT – Former KidsPeace employee Holly Rae Cummings, 27, who pleaded guilty to having sex with a 16-year-old patient, was sentenced to two years’ probation. The teen was a resident of the sexual offenders unit at KidsPeace’s North Whitehall Township facility, whom Cummings took to her home for sex.[8]

December 4, 1997: SEXUAL ASSAULT – Rosanne Coleman, 34, was charged with involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, statutory sexual assault, indecent assault, endangering the welfare of a child and corruption of a minor involving the same 16-year-old boy as in the Cummings conviction (above) while she was employed at KidsPeace. She was sentenced to six months’ house arrest.[9] 

December 12, 1998: DEATH – Mark Draheim, 14, died after being restrained by three counselors at Kidspeace’s Orefield Center facility. The facility issued a statement saying that the counselors held Draheim “passively” when he became “emotional and posed a physical risk to himself.” Yet this was followed by him losing consciousness and requiring emergency medical procedures.[10]

December 16, 1998: RAPE – The attorney for the family of Mark Draheim, 14, who died while being restrained at KidsPeace, stated that the teen’s mom was trying to get him releaseD from the facility after he’d complained to her in the weeks prior to his death that he had been sexually assaulted. Evidence that Draheim was raped was uncovered during his autopsy.[11]

December 17, 1998: RAPE – A news report stated that the police investigation of Mark Draheim’s rape complaints had begun prior to his death. The alleged rapes occurred some weeks before the December 1998 restraint incident which resulted in his death. “He was raped anally and forced to perform oral sex on the older boy,” said the attorney representing Draheim’s family.[12]

May 18, 1999: The mother of Mark Draheim filed a lawsuit against KidsPeace for the restraint-related death of her son Mark at KidsPeace’s North Whitehall Township facility.[13]

July 30, 1999: RAPE – A 12-year-old New Jersey boy sued KidsPeace for failing to protect him. The boy was placed by his school district in KidsPeace’s (now-defunct) residential facility in Allentown, PA, where he was raped by a 13-year-old resident. “KidsPeace allowed him to be exposed to someone who did a dastardly act,” the boy’s attorney said. “I can’t see how this can happen without KidsPeace bearing responsibility.”[14]

2000: SEXUAL ASSAULT – A 10-year-old boy alleged that while at KidsPeace’s facility in Romulus, New York he was sexually assaulted twice by an older resident. Astoundingly, KidsPeace legal counsel said the center felt the incidents had been “consensual” and, furthermore, “KidsPeace does not consider any sexual incident while a child is in our care to be appropriate, but that regrettably, it has not always been possible to prevent such incidents…KidsPeace staff make every effort to prevent any sexual incidents from occurring among clients, but that despite their best efforts, they do occasionally occur.[15]

June 2000: DEATH, RAPE – The parents of Mark Draheim sued KidsPeace over their 11-year-old son’s 1998 death—the result of oxygen deprivation and other injuries incurred during a restraint incident involving three KidsPeace employees. Prior to his death, Mark’s family was trying to have him removed from the facility as he had complained to them of being repeatedly raped, including by at least one adult. KidsPeace medical records reported rectal injuries from the rapes as early as 1996. The lawsuit also contended that KidsPeace did not report the rapes to appropriate authorities and that a case worker discouraged the criminal prosecution of the adult. Per a news article on the suit, KidsPeace’s written response denied the allegations in the lawsuit and said that “the sexual contacts were all consensual.”

September 8, 2000: A former counselor of KidsPeace, Jeff Wimmer, filed a lawsuit alleging he was let go from KidsPeace Schnecksville, PA in retaliation for reporting an assault by a teenage patient to police. Mr. Wimmer alleged KidsPeace officials were upset with him because it resulted in a loss of money for them when the teenager was subsequently transferred out of KidsPeace, to a youth detention facility. In December 2000, a court ruled that the lawsuit had merit and could proceed. (No data found on outcome.) [16]

April 4, 2001: RAPE, ASSAULT – Beverly Taylor of Willingboro, New Jersey filed a lawsuit against KidsPeace’ North Whitehall Township facility, alleging that when her 14-year-old daughter was at the facility in 1998 she was physically assaulted and injured when another patient hit her. During the assault one of the staff who was present restrained the daughter and, in the process, fractured her knee. Roughly a month later a boy who was also a patient of the program entered the daughter’s room and raped her.[17]

July 20, 2001: SEXUAL ASSAULT – Kaj Schaller, 17, was convicted of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse involving an 18-year-old man, whom he sexually assaulted while both were residents at KidsPeace’s North Whitehall Township facility. in 2013, Schaller was convicted in New Jersey of “endangering the welfare of a child/child abuse” for which he was sentenced to two years in South Woods State Prison, in Bridgeton, NJ.[18]

February 23, 2002: DEATH – Sixteen-year-old Chloe Cohen of New York, committed suicide by hanging six weeks after she was admitted to KidsPeace’s North Whitehall Township facility. None of the agencies involved in her placement (social services, her school district, etc.) had been aware that two children had died in the facility previously.[19]

January 25, 2003: A former employee of KidsPeace’s Mesabi Academy filed a lawsuit alleging he was fired for filing a workplace violence complaint with the state Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).[20]

August 5, 2003: DEATH, CHILD MOLESTATION – Former KidsPeace counselor Dean Sine, 39, was sentenced to 3-to-6 years in prison for the 1994 repeated molestation of a 14-year-old boy, who he had offered to mentor after being introduced to the boy’s single mother.[21] (Sine was charged in 1993 in the restraint death of 12-year-old Jason Tallman, when Sine was still employed at KidsPeace.[22] He was acquitted in that case.)

October 2003: John Cosner sued KidsPeace Hospital and other KidsPeace entities for injuries suffered when he was hospitalized there in November 1998. The civil complaint, though not specific about the injuries, states that they were severe and resulted in Cosner being disabled.[23]

November 5, 2003: SEXUAL ASSAULT – Ryan Beers, 28, who admitted to having committed indecent sexual contact with a 16-year-old female patient while he was employed at KidsPeace, was allowed to enter a rehabilitation program in which the charges against him would be dropped once he completed probation.[24] 

2004: FRAUD – KidsPeace paid a $1.9 million settlement after the U.S. attorney's office in Philadelphia determined it overcharged Medicaid for counseling. Federal authorities determined KidsPeace could not be reimbursed for paying counselors to ride the bus with clients. KidsPeace had argued they were necessary to keep order.[25]

March 26, 2004: SEXUAL ASSAULT – The head of KidsPeace’s now defunct Seneca Woods facility in New York issued a public statement about issues with the facility, including corrections to prevent residents from being able to falsely trigger the facility’s smoke alarms and also the six-month jail sentenced given to former employee Michael DeChick, 31, for sodomizing a 15-year-old female patient.[26]

2005: RAPE – Matthew Craft sued KidsPeace Hospital, the corporation, and mental health tech Dean Sine in Pennsylvania District Court. Craft was admitted to the facility in 1998, when he was a minor, for treatment of depression. Shortly after admission, he alleged that Sine trapped him in the bathroom, covered his mouth, pulled down his pants and sodomized him, then told him if he reported it, no one would believe him because he was crazy. (Sine was convicted in 2003 of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse regarding an incident from 1994 involving a different juvenile victim.) KidsPeace settled with Craft for $700,000 paid over two years. [27]

December 16, 2007: RESTRAINT, VIOLENCE – News reported on the high number of restraints, the increase in police calls to KidsPeace’s North Whitehall Township facility, and the resulting state probe which found that seven kids suffered broken bones while being restrained (in a one-year period); an alarming rate in the use of forcible restraint; and escalating violence by patients on staff.[28]

May 4, 2008: DEATH – Two female teen residents of a KidsPeace facility in Saylorsburg, PA overdosed on methadone pills which they “apparently” stole from a KidsPeace counselor who was driving them to an appointment. One girl died, the other was hospitalized. The PA Dept. of Public Welfare closed admissions to the facility while it investigated why the counselor had the pills and how the teens got them. The NJ Dept. of Children & Families also suspended admissions. PA State Police were also investigating.[29]   

June 2008: RAPE – A DC teenager, who was raped by a counselor at a Pennsylvania clinic owned by KidsPeace in 2005, filed a federal lawsuit against Washington DC and KidsPeace Corporation for personal injury. The girl, who was a former ward of the city, was sent to the KidsPeace clinic despite reports of previous abuse incidents at the Pennsylvania site. KidsPeace counselor Jerry McChristian admitted to raping the girl, and pled guilty to institutional rape in 2006. (No data found on the outcome of the lawsuit.)

May 22, 2013: VIOLENCE – KidsPeace filed for bankruptcy due to its inability to pay its debts or meet its pension obligations. The downturn of the organization’s fortunes coincided with the issue of increasing violence at its main facility: “At its peak in 2006, KidsPeace was a $170 million-a-year organization that served 5,000 youths in 10 states…. But in 2007 a detailed review of KidsPeace operations prompted the state Department of Public Welfare to determine that [its] counselors were too frequently using force in restraining out-of-control youths…[which] led the state to temporarily halt all new admissions…reducing reimbursements.”[30]

July 2015: FRAUD – An audit by the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services found that between 2010 and 2014, KidsPeace overbilled county child & youth programs $183,410 for “Title IV-E Program Maintenance” (federal-state funds which pays for foster care services for children who have been removed from their homes). DHS recommended that the funds be recovered from KidsPeace and that KidsPeace only bill county child & youth programs for actual costs of program maintenance.[31]

June 7, 2013: SEXUAL ABUSE – KidsPeace counselor Jonathan Nivar, 23, was arrested on charges including institutional sexual assault against two residents, ages 14 and 18, at KidsPeace’s North Whitehall Township facility. Police began investigating Nivar based on reports from a KidsPeace staff member and the county office of Children, Youth, and Families. Though the charges against him were later dropped (based on data in medical record of the 14-year-old which undermined his allegations), KidsPeace fired Nivar after his arrest.[32]

May 2, 2016: SEXUAL ABUSE – Mesabi Academy officials failed to report three allegations of sexual abuse by an employee to county authorities as required by law, but only conducted an internal investigation. When the county finally learned of the allegations, it triggered an investigation and contributed to a decision for the county to end its contract with KidsPeace. Mesabi fought the investigation—including threatening to sue one Minnesota county for alleged defamation. Speaking about the organization’s culture of silence regarding reporting abuses, one former 13-year Mesabi employee said, “They wanted to make sure you kept your mouth shut.”[33]

December 28, 2016: The Pennsylvania Dept. of Health conducted a building inspection of KidsPeace’s Orchard Hills Campus in Orefield, PA and found that it was not in compliance with the applicable codes relative to a psychiatric facility. Deficiencies found included missing “exit” signage; failure to maintain the building’s alarm system; failure to maintain the automatic fire sprinkler system; failure to maintain fire extinguishers, and other fire alarm and fire & smoke resistance failures and omissions. [34]

February 21, 2017: VIOLENCE, PATIENT SAFETY – The results of a 16-month state investigation into the now-closed Mesabi Academy found that employees encouraged boys as young as 12 to fight one another; slept while residents were fighting; used unsafe restraint procedures; and broke a resident’s clavicle. Even after the facility’s closure, investigators continued to interview residents and staff about complaints—hundreds of allegations of sexual and physical abuse, drug abuse and improper oversight.[35]

June 23, 2017: PATIENT SAFETY – The Pennsylvania Dept. of Health conducted a Medicare recertification survey of KidsPeace’s Orchard Hills Campus which resulted in the designation of Immediate Jeopardy for the facility for having an unsafe environment for patients, relative to the physical structure of the facility itself. The Immediate Jeopardy was voided after the facility put in place a increased patient monitoring plan to be used while the building’s deficiencies were corrected. Numerous other conditions constituting non-compliances with Medicare Conditions of Participation were also found, including failure to display the facility’s provisional license; seven cases of failure to issue written reports regarding serious events involving patients to the patient’s family or representative; a multitude of ligature points throughout the facility (e.g. door handles and hinges, faucets, shower heads, etc.); failure to follow established policies for use of mechanical restraint and no established policy for use of chemical restraint; failure to obtain restraint order from a physician before restraining patients; failed to ensure that restraint orders were not written as standing orders or on as-needed basis; failure to examine patients face-to-face one hour after restraint was initiated; failure to have an RN on duty for every shift, 24 hours a day; failure to have adequate numbers of staff; and failure to keep current an accurate records for the receipt and distribution of all scheduled drugs, among many others.[36] 

September 19, 2017: PATIENTS’ RIGHTS, FACILITY HYGIENE – Unannounced inspection of KidsPeace’s Orchard Hills Campus found that facility was out of compliance with Conditions of Participation with regard to Patient Rights in that it failed to ensure patients had the right to receive care in a safe setting; failed to ensure physician orders for restraints were obtained per facility policy; and failed ensure its facilities and equipment were maintained. This was found in eight of eight nursing units inspected. The report lists a multitude of safety issues requiring repair or replacement including plumbing, electrical, and sharp edges on furniture and bathroom fixtures, etc. Facility staff initiated physical restraint without a proper physician’s order. Lastly, the inspection found unhygienic conditions in dining areas, with food debris on the floor and along the edges of the rooms. Records showed that the required mopping of these floors had not occurred on many days, though required daily. [37]

December 19, 2017: PATIENT ABUSE – Eight former residents joined a suit against KidsPeace alleging physical and mental abuse at Mesabi Academy, bringing the total number of plaintiffs to eleven. In March 2017, the initial three plaintiffs filed the suit, alleging that the boys at Mesabi suffered injuries due to staff assaults and negligence, experienced “horrific physical, mental and sexual abuse, including: beatings, rape and solitary confinement for weeks without break.”[38]

March 2, 2018: A surprise OSHA inspection of KidsPeace’s Oreville, PA facility was carried out based on a complaint regarding safety conditions. The case is closed and there is no accompanying detail.[39]

April 4, 2018: VIOLENCE – A surprise OSHA inspection of KidsPeace’s Oreville, PA found serious employee safety issues, resulting in a citation and penalties of $29,010. The citation stated “The employer did not furnish employment and a place of employment which was free from recognized hazards that were causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm to employees. On or about April 4, 2018, employees assisting clients with daily activities were exposed to the hazard of workplace violence including but not limited to physical assaults such as biting, kicking, punching, and scratching that resulted in serious physical injuries such as but not limited to lacerations, contusions, sprains, strains, headaches, and concussions.”[40]

June 20, 2018: QUESTIONABLE HIRING – KidsPeace was reported as being among mental health centers which employed workers who have been accused of sexual misconduct and abuse. In particular, in 2016, KidsPeace employed social worker Kelly F. O’Rourke despite a complaint having been filed against him in January 2016 with the Maine Board of Social Worker Licensure alleging he engaged in a sexual relationship with an adult client.[41] On June 30, 2016, a criminal complaint charging gross sexual assault was filed against O’Rourke in Cumberland County, Maine, under a law which makes it a crime for a mental a health practitioner to have sex with a patient. O’Rourke pleaded guilty to the charge in January 2017 and was sentenced to two years in prison. His Maine social worker license was revoked in February 2017 for sexual impropriety.[42]

September 12, 2018: The parents of 16-year-old Zachary Hockenberry, who was charged with the stabbing murder of one of his neighbors, sued KidsPeace National Centers of Pennsylvania, its psychiatrist Mahmoud Elfatah, and other defendants for failing to act in order to prevent Hockenberry from harming himself or others.[43]

October 2, 2018: QUESTIONABLE HIRING – An inspection of Kidspeace’s Orefield, PA facility by the Michigan Dept. of Health and Human Services indicated that three Michigan wards were housed there and found several violations including a repeat violation of the facility’s failure to obtain employee references prior to hire (only one in 12 records reviewed were in compliance; the previous time only 33 of 97 files reviewed were in compliance); a substantial number of employees reviewed were out of compliance with annual safety clearance checks (showing they are not perpetrators of child abuse or neglect); and 18 of 24 new hires did not have proof of tuberculosis screening.[44]

September 23, 2019: SEXUAL ASSAULT – Twenty-three-year-old former KidsPeace employee Kharee Greene was charged with institutional sexual assault of a juvenile KidsPeace resident. Greene pleaded guilty in March 2021 to sexual assault involving a 15-year-old female patient he kissed and groped in the laundry facility of KidsPeace in North Whitehall Township, PA.[45]         

January 21, 2020: FRAUD – Mikelanne Welliver, 45, a social worker employed by KidsPeace to deliver therapy services in clients’ home, school, or daycare, pleaded guilty to Medicaid fraud. Welliver had submitted forms for reimbursement for services in schools on days when school records and visitor logs indicated she was not there. The criminal complaint against her stated that signatures of parents, school personnel and daycare teachers on claim forms appeared forged. In one instance, investigators spoke with a client’s mother, who reported that on a particular date which Welliver billed for services, it was her child’s birthday and Welliver had only stopped by to wish him well. In another instance, she billed for services at school on dates which occurred during winter break, when school was out of session. Her lawyer claimed her actions were the result of “a mental health issue and severe depression.” She was sentenced to 18 months’ probation and restitution of $9,867.[46]                                                                                                                                                                    January 3, 2020: DISCRIMINATION – Three former KidsPeace mental health technicians who alleged they were subjected to racial generalizing, degnigrating nicknames while employed at KidsPeace’s North Whitehall Township facility filed a discrimination lawsuit against the organization.[47]

March 30, 2020: VIOLENCE – Three incidents were investigated by state police at the North Whitehall Township facility between March 17 and 25: three juvenile patients were charged with aggravated assault on a 53-year-old teacher, who was treated for a fractured rib; two kids attacked a 27-year-old employee, hitting and kicking him in the head and body after he tried to break up their fight; and eight juvenile residents escaped the facility and were found and brought back later the same day.[48]

April 28, 2020: VIOLENCE – Police were summoned to KidsPeace’s North Whitehall Township facility, where they cited a 16-year-old patient for harassment by physical contact. The girl had harassed another patient at the facility.[49]

May 26, 2020: VIOLENCE – A teen resident at KidsPeace’s North Whitehall Township facility left his house (the facility consists of several separate wards or “houses”), got onto the roof of the neighboring house, broke through and into the unit, jumped onto residents and staff, and pushed, shoved, and punched the director and injured another staff, before escaping.[50] 

July 21, 2020: OSHA performed a surprise inspection of Kidspeace’s Orefield, PA facility based on a health-related complaint. No further data or corresponding citation was found.[51]

September 16, 2020: PATIENT SAFETY, FACILITY HYGIENE – Pennsylvania Dept. of Health conducted a surprise inspection of the Orchard Hills Campus which resulted in the issuing of an Immediate Jeopardy based on facility’s failure to ensure a ligature-resistant environment. This report cites protruding fire sprinklers (as was noted in the DoH’s July 23, 2017 inspection) as well as arm-type door closing units, creating ligature risks. The visit also found unclean conditions in seven of seven units inspected: black spots on ceilings, mildew odor, water stained ceilings, black dust accumulation on air vents in main waiting area, and missing ceiling material. Lastly, the facility failed to have an infection control coordinator in place, failed to properly screen visitors for COVID-19 and follow infection control policies. [52]    

Nov. 2, 2020: Pennsylvania Dept. of Health building inspection of KidsPeace’s Orchard Hills Campus found that facility failed to maintain doors with self-closing devices (which are triggered by fire alarm, smoke detection, etc.); failed to keep exit stairway was being used for storage, which potentially interfered with its purpose as an egress; and other deficiencies in its fire safety system and emergency back-up power system.[53]

Apr. 2, 2021: SEXUAL ABUSE – A $1.495 million settlement was reached by the families of 17 children who were hospitalized at KidsPeace’s now-closed Mesabi Academy, in Minnesota. Mesabi Academy is reported as having received 64 complaints regarding its staff and the care and the treatment of children housed there—including reports of three boys being sexually abused. The families sued KidsPeace following a series of news exposés which detailed abuse and neglect of kids at the facility.[54]  

July 27, 2021: PATIENT SAFETY – A Pennsylvania Dept. of Health patient safety inspection of KidsPeace’s Orchard Hills Campus found that facility failed to ensure that the patient's right to care in a safe setting was maintained. This was based on an incident where a patient had to be transferred to an acute care hospital after having run into a staff bathroom, locked the door, and drunk what he found on the counter, which was a container of “drug buster” (an activated charcoal solution used to dissolve and neutralize drugs—pills, capsules, patches, etc.). [55]

 

Police calls for service

KidsPeace Bowdon: CCHR received records from Bowdon Police Dept. regarding KidsPeace’s residential facility in Bowdon, Georgia. Though the records for 2018 and 2019 are incomplete, the available data from 2017 to mid-2021 shows 102 calls for runaways; 24 calls for fight/dispute/assault (including two 2017 calls for riot/fights involving numerous patients); 3 suicide attempts; and 2 sex assaults.

Or


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