June 22, 2024

Families file lawsuit against Pa. health network alleging misdiagnosis of Munchausen by proxy

WPVI (Philadelphia) — Lehigh Valley Health Network and its physicians are being sued.

The network is charged with misdiagnosing cases of medical child abuse in households.

In each case, one or both parents were charged with Munchausen by proxy (MSP), a type of child abuse in which a child’s caregiver either fabricates symptoms to make the child appear ill or actually makes the child ill.

Every family said that they had battled to reclaim their children first. They are currently battling in court.

According to the parents, their kids have complicated medical issues.

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Kim Whitaker stated, “They diagnosed him with mitochondrial disorder.” “That was around 3 years old.”

According to the families, the Investigative Team has been visiting professionals for years, including the renowned Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

Francis Alexander Malofiy, a civil attorney, is defending the families.

“These are cases where it’s not a simple pediatrician that can make a diagnosis,” he stated.

The families all told us that County Child Protective Services in the Lehigh Valley had taken their children away and accused them of having Munchausen by proxy, a very rare condition.

They also claimed that Dr. Debra Esernio-Jenssen, the former director of the Child Advocacy Center at Lehigh Valley Health Network, who was in charge of looking into child abuse, was driving the removal and diagnosis of Munchausen.

“At the time, it all just seemed like a really big mistake,” Whitaker recalled.

When Hazel and Willow Feeney were taken from their family in 2021, they said to the Investigative Team that they were 11 and 17 years old, respectively.

Hazel Feeney remarked, “I was scared.”

“My parents my whole life had done the best they could to take care of me and my sisters and there was no way that could ever possibly be true,” said Willow Feeney.

For many families, the web of medical appointments, diagnosis, and therapies appears to be just as complicated as some of the ailments the children are supposedly suffering from.

All four cases, however, clearly show that the courts never reached a decision or rendered an opinion. Additionally, the counties closed the cases and gave the children back to the families after they battled to reclaim possession.

Sorry, there’s not. It’s all right. We’ll release you. “Aloha,” Malofiy said

“How do they proceed? They will never present their case in court. He stated, “They actually leave with their tail between their legs; they never sit through cross-examination.”

None of the defendants claims that they were interviewed by Dr. Esernio Jenssen prior to her Munchausen diagnosis.

One of the accused mothers, Stacy Feeney, claimed, “It impacted me mentally, physically, and financially.” “You’re terrified to venture out. to speak with relatives. Nothing else needs to be said.

After Lehigh County Controller Mark Pinsley contacted Action News, we started looking into the cases. Later, Pinsley published a report requesting a county investigation and identifying an alarming number of Munchausen cases in the Lehigh Valley..

He discovered that during a five-year period ending in 2021, the Lehigh Valley accounted for one-third of all cases in the state.

“She is overzealous in her diagnosis of medical child abuse,” stated Pinsley. “We need to have a third party come in and actually investigate.”

Protests followed the report.

Malofiy further stated that prior to making a Munchausen complaint, Dr. Esernio-Jenssen and her team ought to talk about past diagnosis and treatment with previously visited specialists—something he maintains never occurred.

“It’s that doctor that should be looked at if there’s a question about medical treatment and care that the parents were following,” Malofiy added.

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