Families of 20 Former Patients at Cumberland Children’s Hospital in New Kent County File $127-Million Civil Suit

Courtney SweasyOctober 20, 2020

Families of 20 Former Patients at Cumberland Children’s Hospital in New Kent County File $127-Million Civil Suit In Richmond Circuit Court Against the Treatment Center, Its Pennsylvania-Based Owner, its Medical Director and a Psychotherapist, Alleging Sexual Assault, Physical Abuse and Fraud

Victims Range in Age from 9-26 and Reside in 11 Different States; Attorneys for Claimants Contend Abuse Occurred Over at Least a 12-Year Period

A nine-count civil lawsuit, filed Tuesday in Richmond Circuit Court, contends that the former medical director at Cumberland Children’s Hospital in New Kent County, Virginia inappropriately touched the genitalia of young female patients, two as young as 12 years old, during routine medical exams and that employees and fellow patients physically struck and caused harm to other residents, resulting in long-term pain and suffering, PTSD, embarrassment, depression, sleep disorders, bodily injuries and more. The suit also alleges that the hospital and its owner, Universal Health Services (UHS), based in King of Prussia, PA, committed fraud by keeping patients at Cumberland beyond the time necessary for treatment in order to maximize revenue, ignored reports from patients, families and employees of the ongoing abuse and provided misleading information to parents to keep children in their custody. 

Named in the lawsuit besides Cumberland Hospital for Children and Adolescents are UHS and two physicians, Herschel “Mickey” Harden, a psychotherapist, and Daniel N. Davidow, MD, a pediatrician and from 1996-2020, the medical director of the hospital, which advertises itself as a residential treatment center for youths, ages 2-22, with “co-occurring medical and behavioral diagnoses,” including brain injury, chronic illness and neurobehavioral issues.

The complaint further alleges that UHS and Cumberland had inadequate staff to oversee its operation and therefore failed to protect the health and safety of patients, twelve of whom suffered from “non-consensual and unwanted touching” by Dr. Davidow, who approved all admissions to the facility in his capacity as medical director. There are a total of 20 alleged victims of abuse identified in the suit.

The plaintiffs, whose names are identified only by initials in the lawsuit filed by attorneys Kevin Biniazan, Jeffrey Breit, Justin Sheldon and Joseph Cantor of the law firm of Breit Cantor in Virginia Beach and Richmond, range in age today from 9-26. They live in Virginia, Florida, Arizona, North Carolina, Maryland, Delaware, Tennessee, New York, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, California and Alabama. The lawsuit notes Cumberland’s advertising that claims its employees are “competent, qualified, safe and attentive,” which “plaintiffs (families/foster parents) relied on…in making the determination to relinquish the care of their children to the Defendants.” The suit argues, however, that Cumberland misrepresented the quality of the care and the adequacy of staff.

“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,” says attorney Kevin Biniazan.  “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 Dr. Davidow would also feel the girls’ pulses “under their breasts.”  

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

The lawsuit also alleges that roommates or other patients sexually abused younger and weaker plaintiffs after hours, at times coming into their rooms, “without intervention from staff” and “sexually abused and battered” them by “groping and fondling” their “intimate body parts.”  When they “called out for help, staff did not respond.” There are also charges of a patient being scalded with hot water by an employee and of others being locked in rooms without access to toilet facilities and being forced to urinate into cups. “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,” according to the 69-page complaint.

Cumberland Hospital is owned and operated by UHS, the largest facility-based behavioral health provider in the nation with its subsidiaries operating 349 centers in the United States, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and United Kingdom. It had $11.3-billion in revenue in 2019 that produced net income of more than $819-million. UHS has nine treatment centers in Virginia, including ones in Petersburg, Virginia Beach, Staunton, Newport News, Norfolk, Portsmouth, Danville, Leesburg and the 110-bed facility in New Kent. 94 of those beds are authorized for acute care, 16 for residential behavioral treatment.

The plaintiffs contend that the defendants, including Mr. Harden and Dr. Davidow, maintained inadequate staffing to reduce costs and maximize profits, mirroring a company-wide trait. From 2006-2016, “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 adjacent acute care 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 providing deceptive information to state health authorities and attempting to furnish services to far more than the 16 residential patients that Cumberland is licensed to treat.

The suit, which accuses the defendants of assault and battery, negligence, false imprisonment, fraud, reckless disregard and violations of the Virginia Consumer Protection Act, seeks more than $127-million in punitive and 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,” says attorney Biniazan. “These defendants can never undue the harm they’ve caused to our clients, but this lawsuit seeks accountability and a financial recovery that we hope will, in some way, make up for what they’ve suffered. It also sends a message that these institutions and individuals, as well as owners and operators of similar facilities, are not exempt from legal responsibility.”

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