- Associated Press - Thursday, January 30, 2014

ROMNEY, W.Va. (AP) - A nonprofit center in Romney that serves children and adults with developmental disabilities has laid off 50 employees amid an investigation of child abuse allegations.

The Potomac Center also has terminated or suspended low-level employees because of the allegations but has not released the number, The Cumberland Times-News of Maryland (http://bit.ly/1fpPQAM) reported.

West Virginia State Police began the investigation earlier this month after upper management reported allegations of child abuse to the state Department of Health and Human Resources. The DHHR removed 24 children from three intensive training program houses at the center.

“The three houses is our biggest revenue source,” Rick Harshbarger, Potomac Center’s chief executive officer, told the newspaper.

The program is a six- to 24-month residential placement designed to assist children 5 to 17 years old who have developmental disabilities and behavioral issues. Each of the three residences houses eight children of similar ages and promotes a family-oriented atmosphere.

“The layoffs are temporary. I hope these people will still be available when we reopen the three houses, hopefully no longer than weeks,” Harshbarger said.

Harshbarger and the center’s chief operating officer, Kim Helmstetter, met with DHHR general counsel Karen Villanueva-Matkovich and the Bureau of Children and Families’ attorney, William Jones, last week to discuss the status of the center. DHHR spokeswoman Allison Adler confirmed the meeting but declined to comment.

“The meeting went well,” Harshbarger said. “We presented them with a lot of information about all the positive things we have done lately to serve the ID/DD (intellectually disabled/developmentally disabled) folks that we serve.”

“We also presented them with ideas we have to prevent anything like this from happening again.”

Details of the alleged abuse have not been released.

“Our hiring practices are some of the most stringent in the state, but undesirable people still sometimes make it through and become Potomac Center employees,” Harshbarger said.

Hampshire County prosecutor Dan James said the state police, the DHHR and child advocacy centers across the state are working on this case.

“I want to make it crystal clear that our priorities are the protection of those children. We are not rushing the investigation,” James told the newspaper.

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Information from: Cumberland (Md.) Times-News, http://www.times-news.com/timesnew.html