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Doctors speak out about former medical director: 'I've got a lot of flags going up, not good ones'

Posted at 6:33 PM, Jun 21, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-22 10:36:13-04

NEW KENT COUNTY, Va. — The Chief Clinical Officer for the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services (DBHDS) said the former medical director of the Cumberland Hospital for Children and Adolescents should lose his medical license. This after Dr. Alexis Aplasca filed a complaint against the pediatrician Dr. Daniel Davidow.

“Not only is it a law here in Virginia, hearing the stories in the investigations and the details, it is also a moral obligation to ensure that I can do what is in my ability to ensure that it doesn't continue,” Dr. Aplasca said.

Aplasca filed a Virginia Department of Health Professions complaint against Davidow after an inter-agency meeting was held on January 30, 2020, with the Virginia State Police, the Office of the Attorney General, the Department of Social Services, the Department of Medical Assistance Services, DBHDS, and the Virginia Department of Health.

“That meeting was primarily pulled together by the Department of Social Services to really alert the state agencies and other organizations, entities about the widespread nature of it,” said Aplasca.

The complaint stated that “CPS provided accounts of over one dozen allegations of abuse, physical and sexual, by Dr. Davidow.”

She also stated that “practice of medicine that does not meet the standard of care and places individuals at risk of medical harm due to mismanagement.”

“He's not a trained psychiatrist. These are complex kids and they were on multiple doses of medications without the involvement routinely of a psychiatrist, without the input and diagnostically did not make sense from my professional opinion, which, you know, is my entire professional background,” Aplasca added.

The CBS 6 Problem Solvers obtained the complaint as part of a Freedom of Information Act request.

The Problem Solvers received more than 200 documents from the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) and the DBHDS following an ongoing Problem Solvers investigation into abuse and neglect allegations against staff at the New Kent county hospital.

As CBS 6 has been reporting since February 2020, the hospital has been under criminal investigation by the Virginia State Police for child abuse and neglect since October 17, 2017.

Since then, two employees have been criminally indicted.

Former psychotherapist, Mickey Harden, died by suicide on the day he was expected to plead guilty to a sex crime, and former behavior tech Stacey Burrell is serving one year behind bars on a felony wounding conviction for intentionally burning a disabled child.

Thirty-eight former teen patients are suing the New Kent county hospital, its owner, and Davidow for more than $241 million. Thirty of those patients are alleging they were sexually abused by Davidow.

“He was like, I need to make sure your pulse in your private area is intact. He takes his hand with no gloves on. He unbuttons my pants, under my underwear, and puts his whole hand, two fingers on each side of me and it’s just sitting there like this and then he slowly moves his middle finger in between me and puts his fingers in me," said a complainant who goes by the initials RH in the lawsuit.

“He started by lifting up my shirt and said I am looking at your tubes and then very suddenly started touching my breasts. He had me slide down my pants and he grabbed my underwear and pulled them down,” former patient KMJ explained. “I was obviously very tense because it was a very uncomfortable situation and he was like 'just relax, just relax." And he still did not have gloves on, he stuck his fingers inside of me and he claimed he was checking pulses to make sure they were okay.”

The complaints claim Davidow, who was forced out of the hospital in February 2020, would fraudulently check a female patient's femoral pulse - located in the groin area - and place his hands beneath the minor patient’s undergarments and sexually abuse the minor patient.

“In pediatrics, it's important to assess a baby's femoral pulse as a critical way to pick up on congenital heart disease, especially in the newborn period, we continue to assess it during those early exams,” said Dr. Melissa Nelson of Pediatric Associates of Richmond.

CBS 6 reached out to the American Academy of Pediatrics on when it’s appropriate for a doctor to check for a femoral pulse.

“AAP guidance for pediatricians called ‘bright futures,’ palpating femoral pulses is mentioned as part of the physical exam during infancy visits but there are not specifics included on how or when exactly this is done”, said American Academy of Pediatrics spokesperson Lisa Black.

The last visit that a femoral pulse is listed in an exam in the Bright Futures Pocket Guide is nine months. The guide spans from newborn-21 years old.

“I've been a pediatrician for 20 years and I have never seen an indication for doing a femoral pulse exam on an adolescent,” said Dr. Nelson.

According to the FOIA documents, state health officials were aware of numerous sexual assault allegations against Davidow prior to the CBS 6 investigation which preceded the medical director’s termination, which was mentioned in emails the Problem Solvers obtained.

According to a state report, from January 2019 to February 2020 eight incidents involving Davidow were reported. That’s almost half of the total number of sexual misconduct complaints made against Cumberland staff during that same time.

Regarding the Davidow complaints, at the time the report was generated, it indicated that three of the complaints were unfounded, one screened out, or did not meet the statutory criteria, one was suspended or put on hold and three of the cases were pending. Those complaints detailed alleged inappropriate touching of females in the groin area.

Citing privacy concerns, state health officials were unable to provide the current status of these complaints.

The CBS 6 Problem Solvers shared the FOIA documents with State Senator Siobhan Dunnavant (R - Henrico), an OB/GYN who once served on the Virginia Board of medicine. CBS 6 also questioned Dr. Dunnavant about performing femoral pulse checks on adolescents.

“That was outside the standard of care,” Dunnavant said. “I take care of teenage and even younger women and I haven't taken a femoral pulse since I was an ICU nurse and we were in an emergency and really in a code situation, or something along those lines. That's when I think that's relevant when you can't find anything else."

In the spring of 2017, five female patients said they were “inappropriately touched by Davidow,” which led to a New Kent County Sheriff’s Office investigation.

In an April 13, 2017, New Kent police report, Davidow explained that during his exams he is rating the patient on ‘Tanner scale’ which is based on certain developmental characteristics of breasts, genitals, and pubic hair which is why he checks the femoral pulse on both sides.

The report stated he can also feel for the pubic hair development in order for him to scale the patient.

New Kent investigators would ultimately find that the allegations were unfounded, a decision that was supported by then Commonwealth’s Attorney Linwood Gregory, according to the police report.

“Of everything that you sent me, that was the most disturbing and concerning,” said Dunnavant. “So, ‘Tanner scale’ and hair growth is a visual, not a tactile assessment. So, that would not be the proper way to assess what he was looking at.”

“When I hear about an adolescent who's having femoral pulses done by someone without gloves on, and doing it regularly, and also feeling their pubic hair during that assessment, I've got a lot of flags going up, and they're not good ones,” said Dr. Nelson.

“The average age in the United States to start your period, or menses, is 12 and a half and beyond that I'm not doing ‘Tanner’ stages at all and when I was doing them on her, it was only annually and never involved a femoral pulse exam or even touching her pubic hair,” Dr. Nelson added.

Dr. Aplasca filed the DHP complaint days before CBS 6’s first investigative report. That’s when she expressed “multiple concerns” about Davidow and the hospital.

She wrote, “Dr. Davidow and Cumberland Hospital does not meet an acceptable standard of care and it places vulnerable children and families at medical risk.”

“My intent really for putting this complaint in was that I don't feel that this is a person who should be working with highly vulnerable youth who don't have the ability to articulate exactly what has happened to them,” said Dr. Aplasca.

Aplasca says DHP investigated, but she was advised ‘'the Board [of Medicine] has determined it will not initiate disciplinary proceedings.’

"Were you satisfied with the ruling?" asked CBS 6 Problem Solver Laura French.

“No, I was not,” answered Aplasca. “I think when there are such egregious allegations and a complaint to the detail that I provided, I think there is an opportunity to continue to dig deeper and ask more questions of the person that is providing that complaint and give feedback, you know, about the kind of ultimate verdict, you know, whether or not it changes that, it could possibly lead them towards a different action.”

“I suspect it is the same as why some of these DSS allegations have gone unfounded. There are a large portion of youth who are nonverbal, are profoundly intellectually disabled, who have experienced significant trauma, and really cannot articulate or are scared to articulate and be able to provide evidence to substantiate those, those claims. So that really, you know, breaks my heart, but that's, that's how the system is leaning towards,” said Aplasca.

Davidow still holds an active medical license and has not been criminally charged.

"In your opinion, should Dr. Davidow have his medical license?" asked French.

“No,” answered Dr. Aplasca.

"Do you feel like you did everything in your power to see that that happened?" French asked.

“From a legal regulatory standpoint, perhaps, but I would like to know if there is something else that I could do, and if there is, I would be the first one to do it,” Aplasca answered.

Meanwhile, Dunnavant said she was committed to doing whatever it takes to ensure kids in the Commonwealth stay safe.

“I'm going to be asking a lot of questions and I'm concerned about our children in Virginia anyway, because this is a big issue and there are a lot of incidents at this hospital, and it deeply concerns me, '' said Dunnavant. “Everybody in the state is looking at this and trying to make darn sure that they have an assessment of what happened, so that they can know it, and hold people accountable where appropriate.”

The Virginia Attorney General's Major Crimes and Emerging Threats Section had been involved in investigating and prosecuting allegations of abuse and neglect against staff at the Cumberland Hospital for the last two years. When CBS 6 requested an update on the investigation, we were told they were not investigating, and New Kent had jurisdiction.

CBS 6 requested a further explanation.

“The OAG previously investigated because the former New Kent Commonwealth's Attorney had a conflict and had to recuse himself. The current Commonwealth's Attorney does not have a conflict, so jurisdiction was returned back to the Commonwealth's Attorney,” said OAG spokesperson Victoria LaCivita.

“At this point in time, there is an ongoing investigation in this matter and my office has only recently gotten involved," current New Kent County Commonwealth’s Attorney Scott Renick, who took office in January 2020, said. “Due to the fact that the investigation is still being conducted, my office cannot release any information at this time.”

The Virginia State Police have been investigating since the fall of 2017.

Spokesperson Corinne Geller said, “The investigation remains ongoing at this time.”

“The governor has been briefed on the situation from 2019 and 2020, Secretary Littel has investigated the matter, and is reviewing the actions taken then and any additional preventative measures at DBHDS,” said Governor Glenn Youngkin’s spokesperson Macaulay Porter. “This administration is wholly committed to ensuring children are safe and protected, especially when under the government's care.”

"The allegations against Dr. Davidow are extremely serious,” said DBHDS spokesperson Lauren Cunningham. “These allegations occurred on the medical side of the facility, which DBHDS does not license. When the allegations came to light, DBHDS began assisting VDH in its licensing investigation of medical services, and we conducted our own licensing investigation of the residential care unit. Cumberland has since expanded its Residential Treatment Center license. With the new DBHDS licenses in place comes increased monitoring and regulatory requirements to ensure the licenses remain in good standing."

The Virginia Department of Health referred CBS 6 to the Department of Health Professions which CBS 6 had already reached out to for this story.

“Due to Virginia’s confidentiality laws including, State Statute 54.1-2400.2 [law.lis.virginia.gov], health regulatory boards, including the Board of Medicine, cannot comment, confirm nor deny the existence of a complaint or investigation,” said the Virginia Department of Health Professions” spokesperson Diane Powers.

CBS 6 reached out to Dr. Davidow through his attorney but they declined to comment due to pending litigation.

Davidow has filed a lawsuit against CBS 6, claiming defamation.

CBS 6 and our owner – E.W. Scripps – stand by our reporting on this matter, and we are actively defending against this legal action.