State removes 24 children from Potomac Center

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ROMNEY — Treatment that a state official described as “inhumane and degrading” has led to 24 children ages 5 to 18 being removed from Potomac Center on Blue Street in the last 2 days.

The program — the largest of 3 run by the facility — apparently will remain closed. Group homes on Birch Lane and Washington Street were not affected.

West Virginia State Police are conducting an investigation. The Department of Health and Human Resources said in a statement Friday that it will continue to monitor the facility on a 24-hour basis and will work with the state police.

“Children in the department’s care were subjected to inhumane and degrading treatment by some employees of the Potomac Center Inc. facility,” said Karen Bowling, DHHR cabinet secretary, in the press release. “DHHR took immediate action to remove the endangered children from the facility.”

She said the situation was revealed late Wednesday.

“DHHR took immediate action to remove the endangered children from the facility,” she said. “Through multifaceted, collective and coordinated efforts, within 24 hours, every child in DHHR custody was placed in a safe alternative environment.”

Potomac Center CEO Rick Harshbarger released a statement, saying, “No one cares more for the children we serve than I do.  I am appalled and saddened that the actions of a very few have affected so many.  We will cooperate fully with all investigators and support the prosecution of any of our employees who mistreated any child entrusted in our care.  We are not closing and are working to re-open the program in question.”

Sgt. R.W. Mason of the Romney Detachment of the State Police offered no details beyond confirming the investigation.

Bowling characterized the acts described to her by DHHR investigators as criminal and unjustifiable.

“I am outraged and deeply saddened by the exploitation of children and lack of compassion by some employees at this facility,” she said in the prepared statement. “Let me reiterate, in the strongest terms, my condemnation of this behavior.”

She said her agency is committed to the well-being and protection of children, and expressed appreciation to the county judges, prosecutors and behavioral health providers who assisted in moving the children quickly.

DHHR Director of Communication Allison Adler said not all the children removed from the home were placed there by DHHR, but could not specify the numbers. will update the story as more information becomes available.

8 Comments for “State removes 24 children from Potomac Center”

  1. gennifer burkett

    I tried to tell the state all I knew and expose that place for what they were when I left there but because I wasn’t an eye witness they didn’t take me seriously this inhumane treatment has been covered up for years….wish more ppl would have backed me up but when questioned I was discredited and then my work environment was made HOSTILE!!! I just HOPE the state prosecutes to the fullest extent of the law and the group homes are investigated thoroughly as well…Thank You to those who finally rescued these children!!!!

  2. Ann Kump Murphy Finley

    I am a retired child abuse investigator ( Institutional Investigation Unit) for DHHR State of WV During my employment, I investigated Potomac Center. At that time, I found Potomac Center to be an excellent facility.I have been retired since 1999 and am appalled about the allegations How could such a fine group home drop to such. deplorable conditions? The potential for abuse is always present and many who seek employment with disabled persons choose the job in order to abuse. Best wishes to DHHR and the police

  3. This is horrible and worst part is the lower level employees are taking all the blame. It was a great training facility until the new upper management ruined it. Where was upper level management? The CEO said no one cares for the kids more than him. That is a joke he needs a book just to identify the kids. The COO is only concerned with the money the kids bring and if I dare say the brains behind the CEO. The entire place needs cleaned out at the top and start from the beginning. The upper management are suppose to provide knowledge and support to the Potomac Center which they lack. Shame on the upper management for failing those kids.

  4. I spent a brief amount of time as a DSP on campus and I would have loved to stay. I’ve often thought about going back. During training, you are told that if an incident occurs and you are found to be at fault, you could face legal consequences and be unable to work in any position in direct contact with children from then on out. That sounds completely reasonable. However, during my short time with PC, an incident occurred in the house I worked in, primarily because we were severely understaffed. Two staff to 8 kids is not at all enough, especially when all of said staff are relatively new and haven’t had the appropriate amount of time to develop a solid rapport with the children. We addressed the fact that we needed more staff several times, to which the program manager told us that she wasn’t obligated to provide us with any more help because, by law, a 2:4 staff to child ratio was acceptable. We knew that an incident was waiting to happen. You can only have eyes in so many places at one time… And many kids need a lot of one on one attention, which they absolutely deserve! Anyway, the incident occurred, the investigation took place, which had to do with a child getting ahold of cleaning products left out. We ALL knew who was responsible for leaving it out, however, that person must have lied pretty well. We watched as the wrong person (someone who was having to shuffle between two houses all day BECAUSE of the lack of adequate amount of staff members on campus) lost their job over this incident and that was that. It wasn’t to be talked about anymore.

  5. Sorry, in my previous comment, I meant to say that the ratio we were told was acceptable was 1:4, when it is actually supposed to be 1:2. Two staff for 8 children is what we had when we repeatedly requested more help.

  6. I worked there for 17 years and this news doesn’t shock me at all. That place has been going downhill since Rick Harshbarger took it over. They don’t know how to treat their emplyees so why would it be any different for the children that live there.

  7. This is just so flipping upsetting, and makes me want to come up to the potomac center and clean house myself, Iv worked there from age of 15 to I was 18 I am now 45, I will be damned if this new hires knew how to take care of childern to each child’s needs and disibilty this would have never happend, The Ceo should have better programs on how to train staff and there should be more close watched, I am sure that the people who did this have no respect for human life, PEOPLE WAKE UP AND UNDERSTAND THAT THIS CLIENTS ARE HUMAN’S TO WHO JUST NEED A LITTLE MORE ATTENTION IN DIFFERENT WAYS. IT’S CALLED ALSO RESPECT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! LETS LEARN IT, BEFORE PEOLPLE ARE HIRED and when they are hired if they do not no it TEACH IT!!!!!!!!! i am sure these people who did this were grown ass adults, who thought messing with clients of such were cute well guess what, my personal opion is you all who did this and caused harm to helpless humans and who caused life long employees to lose there jobs.. ARE WORTHLESS AND NEED TO LEARN THE MEANING OF RESPECT. I do not wish harm for any one and my mom taught us to RESPECT OTHERS, I HOPE ALL OF YOU GET WHAT THE HELL IS COMING TO YOU AND NOT AN EASY WAY OUT….as u sit here and type this i am full of tears.. rot in hell all of you worth less people who have not respect for life. enough said.

  8. as i sit here and type this my eyes are full of tears

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