EXCLUSIVE: Family claims abuse at Woods Services

LANGHORNE, Pa. - August 26, 2010

19-year-old Giovannie Alejandro is a patient at Woods Services in Langhorne who suffers from mild mental retardation, tuberous sclerosis and partial seizures. His family says he has the mind of a 3-year-old.

Late Tuesday night, they got a disturbing phone call from a staff member at Woods.

"They told us that Giovannie had a seizure and he fell and then they were going to take him to the hospital," Giovannie's stepfather Victor Velez said.

But when family members arrived at St. Mary's Hospital, they were startled when they saw various cuts and bruises on their son's face, and the word from doctors that he also suffered a fracture to his neck.

The staff at Woods claimed Alejandro had fallen from his bed, but the teen gave his parents an altogether different and terrifying story about being manhandled by a staff member at Woods.

"He said he threw me on the floor and started punching me. That's what he's saying, that's what he told us and he started crying and he was shaking real bad, so it looks like he's afraid of this guy," Velez said.

Victor Velez went to Woods Services to see the bed Alejandro was said to have fallen out of. The top of the mattress is about a foot from the floor and the floor is carpeted. To Alejandro's family, the story being given by Woods staffers seems suspect.

"It looks like there's no way that he fell from the bed. From 10 inches that's a lot of...you can see there's a lot of damage to his face," Velez said.

The Woods Services facility in Langhorne is already under fire after 20-year-old Bryan Nevins who suffered from severe autism died after being left in a locked van for more than 5 hours last month. One of the staffers, Stacey Strauss of Philadelphia, is facing felony neglect and involuntary manslaughter charges.

The Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare permanently closed the 10 bed resident hall where Nevins lived and banned all new admissions in 36 other licensed units at the 300 acre site in Langhorne.

It turns out, however, they are being allowed to continue to operate pending appeal.

In a statement Thursday night, a spokesperson for Woods says in part, that the allegations being made by Giovannie's family, "are clearly unfounded". The agency claims "the injury sustained on Tuesday was the result of a long-standing medical condition".

The family has filed two other complaints of abuse with the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare back in 2007 which the agency determined were unfounded.

Last month, though, Giovannie ended up at St. Christopher's Hospital with another injury to his ear which a doctor determined was the result of an aggravated assault."

After being hospitalized since Tuesday night, the teenage patient was discharged Thursday night and has been sent back to Woods Services in Langhorne

Disillusioned with the system, the family failed to report that incident to Bucks County authorities, but now, through the help of a social agency, the family is going to ask for a criminal investigation.

They are now planning to meet with authorities in Bucks County Friday to file a criminal complaint.

FULL STATEMENT FROM WOODS SERVICES

The allegations made by the parents of Giovanni Alejandro are unfounded. He was taken to the hospital on Tuesday evening as a result of a long-standing medical condition. Medical privacy laws prevent us from saying any more about his medical condition, but what occurred Tuesday was not unusual given his medical condition. A Woods' staff nurse provided immediate medical assistance until an ambulance arrived to transport the resident to St. Mary's Medical Center.

Woods' staff neurologist was in regular contact with the physicians at the hospital throughout the duration of the resident's stay. The resident was released on Thursday and returned to Woods' care.

It has been reported that Giovanni also received care from St. Christopher's Hospital earlier this summer. Woods was not involved in that visit; we can only conclude that a family member took him there, independently, during a home visit.

However, St. Christopher's is a mandated reporter for DPW, meaning that the hospital is required by law to report incidents that might suggest abuse. No such report was filed, so we can only assume that the hospital concluded that the resident's reported condition was not a result of abuse and was consistent with his medical condition and behavioral history.

Many of the individuals Woods serves engage in behaviors that result in causing harm to themselves such as head-banging, biting, and scratching. In addition, many also suffer psychiatric disorders such as conduct disorder, impulse control disorder and psychosis.

We care deeply, on both a personal and professional level, for our clients and for their ongoing safety and welfare. Any allegation of abuse that is reported to Woods, whether by clients, families, or staff, is fully investigated.

While we understand the parents of Giovanni Alejandro are concerned for their son's welfare, their allegations surrounding this incident are unfounded.

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