Report spurs investigations into Woods Services

LANGHORNE, Pa. - August 26, 2010

Giovannie's family says he has the mind of a 3-year-old and alleges that he was physically abused by a staff member and had to be hospitalized with multiple injuries. He even mentioned the name of his attacker to his parents.

"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," Giovannie's stepfather Victor Velez told Action News Thursday.

The family says they also had to rush Alejandro to St. Christopher's Hospital for Children last month after he arrived from the agency for a weekend visit and had an injury to his ear. The doctor determined the injury was the result of an aggravated assault.

The Department of Public Welfare is now investigating both alleged incidents and seeking records from the hospitals as well as interviewing staff members.

Additionally, on Friday morning, the family went to Middletown Township Police where they filed a criminal complaint.

The agency continues to insist it found both incidents to be unfounded. In a statement it says, "St. Christopher's is required by law to report incidents to DPW that might suggest abuse. No such report was filed, so we can only assume the hospital concluded...was no abuse."

But, the Department of Public Welfare says, "Wrong. St. Christopher's is not required to report adult abuse as is the case here, only child abuse."

Woods also suggests the injuries may have been self-inflicted, saying that many "individuals Woods serves engage in behaviors that result in causing harm to themselves such as head-banging, biting and scratching."

But the Department of Public Welfare says even if that were the case here, "Agencies such as Woods are required to have protocols in place to prevent patients from harming themselves."

Audrey Coccia is the Executive Director of Visions for Equality, the social agency that intervened on the family's behalf to bring the matter to light. Her staff members spoke to Alejandro at length.

"He looks like, certainly something happened to him," Coccia said.

Woods Services in Langhorne is already under fire after the deaths of two patients from New York, 17-year-old Robert Percaro of Long Island and 20-year-old Bryan Nevins.

Nevins suffered from severe autism and died after being left in a locked van for more than 5 hours. One of the staffers, Stacey Strauss is facing felony charges in connection with the death.

Two New York counties removed the remaining patients it placed at the Woods facility pending the outcome of the investigation.

Meanwhile, Alejandro is back the Woods facility during the ongoing investigations and the question is why?

"I believe it's a mistake, a huge mistake," Advocacy and Latino Project Manager of Vision for Equality Emelio Pacheco said.

The Philadelphia Department of Human Services, who placed Alejandro at Woods, says his court appointed attorney advocate has the option to request that he be placed with his parents pending the outcome of the investigation or request that he be placed at another facility.

Neither the family nor Action News were able to reach Alejandro's attorney in the public defender's office.

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