CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Some workers at the Potomac Center may have thought what they were doing was joke, but Mark Drennan, the executive director of the West Virginia Behavioral Health Care Providers Association, said what they’re accused of doing to some kids at the Hampshire County site was far from it.
“I would describe them as demeaning and degrading acts,” said Drennan of the allegations that prompted an investigation — focused on the Romney facility — involving State Police, the state Department of Health and Human Resources and several other child advocacy groups.
The Potomac Center is part of the West Virginia Behavioral Health Care Providers Association. “We’re working, hand in hand, with state regulators to make sure that we get to the bottom of it and we hope that any individuals that participated in this (will) be prosecuted,” said Drennan.
Two dozen children who were part of the Potomac Center’s Intensive Training Program were moved from the Romney facility to other locations in January after managers at the site, a contractor for DHHR, reported what State Police characterized as physical and sexual abuse to state officials.
The program, which is said to be unique in West Virginia, is a six-month to 24-month residential program for kids between the ages of five and 17 who have developmental disabilities and behavioral issues.
Drennan confirmed a small number of workers were directly involved in or had knowledge of three incidents, that he knew of, and three had been fired, as of Tuesday. Photos of kids in “demeaning” positions, he said, were sent to others via Snapchat, a social media app service that automatically deletes any sent photos once they’re viewed.
Such actions, Drennan said, are not typical of the Potomac Center. “This Center has an excellent reputation,” he said on Tuesday’s MetroNews “Talkline.” “Before even I became the executive director of the association, I placed children at that center.”
In total, the site has 180 employees. Because of the ongoing investigation, Medicaid has cut off payments to the site and, as a result of that, 50 Potomac Center workers were temporarily laid off last month, while work hours and pay were cut for the remaining staff members.
Drennan said dozens of those workers had already been cleared of any involvement or knowledge of the alleged abuse. He said the goal was to return to regular operations soon. A meeting with DHHR to talk about that transition was scheduled for Wednesday.