Cumberland Times-News

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January 20, 2014

Potomac Center investigation continues

ROMNEY, W.Va. — Demeaning, disrespectful, degrading and intolerable is how the CEO of the Potomac Center in Romney describes the abuse to children from an undetermined number of lower management employees.

Officials say that charges will be brought against those proven to be the perpetrators.

Due to the ongoing investigation, details on the abuse were not revealed; however, officials report that only minor incidents of sexual abuse may have taken place.

Rick Harshbarger has been the CEO at the center since its inception in 1980.

“This year I’ll have been here 34 years,” Harshbarger said Monday afternoon.

Harshbarger said the entire situation has hit him like a ton of bricks “coming out of nowhere.”

“I want to make sure everyone knows that no serious physical injuries happened to the kids. People could have gotten hurt, but didn’t,” Harshbarger said.

“What did occur was intolerable and disgusting and I will be taking steps that it doesn’t happen again.”

“We are making plans to go to Charleston to meet with the DHHR (Department of Health & Human Resources) people that made the decision to remove the kids,” Harshbarger said.

Planning to accompany him are state Sen. Donald Cookman, Del. Ruth Rowan and center COO Kim Helmstetter.

“We want to talk to them about the guidelines and when we can start to reopen the houses, hopefully one by one,” Harshbarger said.

Twenty-four children were removed from the center over the course of Thursday and Friday.

The action was taken following a report from the center to authorities Wednesday.

The Potomac Center has three eight-bed residences, an eight-bed off campus residence, a six-bed off campus residence and five three-bed homes.

Three of the eight-bed homes on campus were where the 24 children who were removed last week lived.

Each facility has its own specific caretakers.

In addition, the center manages a foster care program in Romney, Moorefield and Elkins working with as many as 40 to 50 children.

The Potomac Center is an independent not-for-profit, private organization governed by a volunteer board of directors, providing residential assistance and support to both children and adults with developmental disabilities as they learn the skills needed to live successful lives.

Other services include respite and crisis respite when caregivers need to be away from their loved ones, in the case of an emergency or just to re-energize.

The crisis respite is run in cooperation with the West Virginia Bureau for Behavioral Health & Health Facilities. When a child or family experiences a temporary disruption in placement, this 30-day service provides housing and support for children.

Harshbarger said he is “100 percent” behind Hampshire County Prosecuting Attorney Dan James and the West Virginia State Police who are investigating these allegations.

“I want them prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” Harshbarger said.

Due to the holiday Monday, the Times-News was unable to contact the state DHHR for comment.

Contact Marla Pisciotta at marlapisciotta@frontier.com.

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