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Sexual abuse alleged in $127 million lawsuit against children's hospital in New Kent County
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Sexual abuse alleged in $127 million lawsuit against children's hospital in New Kent County

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Twenty former patients at a children’s hospital in New Kent County are seeking $127 million in damages in a lawsuit alleging sexual abuse, physical assaults and attempts to deceive public and state health officials.

In a nine-count civil lawsuit filed Tuesday in Richmond Circuit Court, attorneys for the plaintiffs allege that the former medical director of the Cumberland Hospital for Children and Adolescents in New Kent inappropriately touched young female patients during routine medical exams. The lawsuit also says that employees and fellow patients physically struck or sexually abused other residents.

The complaint says the plaintiffs suffered harms including long-term pain, PTSD, humiliation, depression, sleep disorders and bodily injuries.

The alleged victims, whose current ages range from 10 to 26, live in 13 states. Three of them live in Virginia, including a 20-year-old in the Richmond metro area.

Cumberland Hospital for Children and Adolescents is a residential treatment center and hospital with about 110 beds, according to the lawsuit. Cumberland is a subsidiary of Pennsylvania-based Universal Health Services Inc., which owns behavioral health facilities and acute care hospitals throughout the U.S., including several in Virginia.

A voicemail message seeking comment Tuesday was not immediately returned by Garrett Hamilton, chief executive officer of Cumberland. A phone message and email also were not returned by an attorney believed to be representing Cumberland and UHS.

In addition to Cumberland and UHS, the defendants in the lawsuit include Dr. Daniel N. Davidow of Henrico County, the hospital’s former medical director; and Herschel C. Harden III of Williamsburg, identified as a former psychotherapist at Cumberland.

Cumberland offers services to children and young adults with complex behavioral issues, eating disorders, diabetes, chronic illness, neurobehavioral issues and brain injuries, according to the lawsuit. Patients range in age from 2 to 22 and face challenges including co-occurring medical and behavioral diagnoses.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs, with the law firm Breit Cantor Grana Buckner in Virginia Beach, allege that abuse occurred over a period of at least 12 years.

The plaintiffs allege that UHS and Cumberland had inadequate staff to oversee its operation and therefore failed to protect the health and safety of patients. Eleven female patients reported that Davidow sexually abused them in a similar manner, the lawsuit says.

“We have heard from children and parents that when no parent or other advocate was in the room, Dr. Davidow would say he needed to feel the female patients’ femoral pulse, located on their upper inner thighs, and he did so with the knowledge of some staff,” said Kevin Biniazan, an attorney for the plaintiffs, in a statement Tuesday. “Dr. Davidow would then place his hands beneath female patients’ undergarments and sexually abuse them by intentionally touching their intimate parts.”

A graduate student working at Cumberland in 2017 told New Kent County Social Services that five female patients at Cumberland were victims of sexual abuse by Davidow, the lawsuit says.

“Our experts in pediatrics say checking a girl’s femoral pulse is completely unnecessary,” Biniazan said. “We were also told that Dr. Davidow only checked the pulses of male patients on their wrists.”

Virginia State Police is conducting a criminal investigation and a grand jury has indicted Harden on two counts of object sexual penetration by force. No other charges have been placed in the case.

The state attorney general’s office is prosecuting Harden’s criminal charges. A spokeswoman for the office said Tuesday that she had no updates on the overall investigation.

Harden has a trial scheduled in February. Fernando Groene, the attorney representing him in that case, declined to comment on the criminal charges or the civil suit.

Davidow could not be reached for comment.

The civil lawsuit alleges that roommates or other patients sexually abused a plaintiff without intervention from staff. The plaintiffs allege that an employee scalded a patient with hot water and that others were locked in rooms without access to toilet facilities and were forced to urinate in cups.

According to the 69-page complaint, staff members would pick one victim out of his wheelchair and throw him into a shower, knowing he could not physically brace himself to avoid injury.

“The defendants operated an unsafe facility that subjected the patients, including the plaintiffs, to constant threats to their basic safety, devoid of fundamental sanitation or humanity,” the plaintiffs allege.

The plaintiffs contend that the defendants, including Harden and Davidow, maintained inadequate staffing to reduce costs and maximize profits.

From 2006 to 2016, the lawsuit says, “facilities owned and operated by UHS were cited or investigated for inadequate staffing violations on approximately 90 occasions, including Cumberland Hospital on at least one occasion.”

In addition, the suit says the doctors and staff at Cumberland were encouraged to keep patients admitted for as long as the hospital could receive payment, “even when inpatient care or residential treatment was no longer medically necessary or beneficial.”

The defendants also are accused of making “bed-to-bed” transfers from the treatment center to Cumberland’s general hospital to increase revenue and profits and pressuring staff to “make fraudulent and materially false statements in medical records to justify longer stays.” Those included false statements to state health authorities and attempting to serve hundreds of children and adolescents, including the plaintiffs, without appropriate and necessary licenses from the Virginia Department of Health and the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services.

The allegations in the lawsuit include assault and battery, negligence, false imprisonment, reckless disregard and violations of the Virginia Consumer Protection Act. The suit seeks $7 million in punitive damages and $120 million in compensatory damages for bodily injuries, physical pain and mental anguish, disfigurement, future lost earnings and medical expenses. The plaintiffs are requesting a jury trial.

“It is clear from the statements of our plaintiffs that Cumberland Hospital, UHS, Dr. Davidow and Mr. Harden placed profits over the health and safety of patients, robbed vulnerable young girls of their innocence and potentially harmed them psychologically for life,” Biniazan said.

“These defendants can never undo the harm they’ve caused to our clients,” he said, “but this lawsuit seeks accountability and a financial recovery that we hope will, in some way, make up for what they’ve suffered.”

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