Lehigh County is moving its child advocacy center out of LVHN. Here’s why – The Morning Call

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Lehigh County is moving its child advocacy center, which investigates claims of child abuse, from Lehigh Valley Health Network after months of criticism regarding alleged abuse misdiagnoses.

The John Van Brakle Child Advocacy Center will leave Lehigh Valley Hospital-Allentown and return to its original location at the Lehigh County Government Center in Allentown, according to county General Services Director Rick Molchany.

“Recent transitions involving LVHN make this an appropriate time to evaluate how best to serve the community moving forward,” the county said in a news release.

While the county did not elaborate, Debra Esernio-Jenssen, the former LVHN doctor whose resignation families have repeatedly called for, retired over the weekend. She left her role as head of the CAC in the fall, months after a report highlighted alleged child abuse misdiagnoses under her leadership.

The doctor hired to replace her, Sarah Kleinle, left LVHN on Feb. 9, according to LVHN spokesperson Jamie Stover, who didn’t explain the reason for the departure.

As of Tuesday, LVHN doesn’t employ any child abuse pediatricians, Stover added, but does employ standard pediatricians, who can recognize child abuse. The health network is also hiring professionals who can provide care for children who have potentially been abused or neglected, she said.

Brian Downs, another LVHN spokesperson, said of the CAC relocation: “As we’ve noted in previous comments, we have been in continuous conversation with our partners in the Child Advocacy Center … and look forward to meeting with them on the evolution of the CAC. We remain focused on working with Lehigh County and all other jurisdictions to protect children.”

Molchany said Tuesday the county would have no further comment, but would release more information in the future, such as any changes the county may make to how it investigates child abuse and whether the CAC would bring in more partners, such as additional health care providers.

The Lehigh County district attorney’s office started the Lehigh Valley’s first child advocacy center in 2001 to provide a multidisciplinary approach to investigating child abuse cases. The CAC houses not only LVHN doctors but also investigators from the district attorney’s office, the Allentown Police Department’s special victims unit and caseworkers from Lehigh County Children and Youth Services — all of who work together to investigate potential cases of child abuse and support victims and their families.

Lehigh County District Attorney Gavin Holihan wasn’t immediately available for comment.

The center moved to LVHN’s Lehigh Valley Reilly Children’s Hospital in 2014.

The center — and more specifically, Esernio-Jenssen — came under fire in the summer, after Lehigh County Controller Mark Pinsley released a report highlighting what he said was an abnormally high number of medical child abuse diagnoses. Multiple families came forward to say they were wrongfully accused of child abuse by Esernio-Jenssen.

Both Esernio-Jenssen and LVHN face multiple lawsuits from families over these reported misdiagnoses, with a class action lawsuit claiming that “families were irreparably torn apart because of these accusations and reputations permanently ruined.”

The Parents Medical Rights Group, the Lehigh Valley nonprofit that formed to advocate for parents against false child abuse accusations, couldn’t be reached for comment. Kim Steltz, who co-founded PMRG, is a plaintiff against Esernio-Jenssen and LVHN.

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