Two Delaware families say Nemours Children’s Hospital reported false claims of child abuse to the state
after the parents complained about the medical care their children received, according to recently filed lawsuits.
Dwayne and Shawna Milton and Dameon Watson and Iesha Congo Watson, two sets of Black parents, say they believe the accusations were racially motivated. Their lawyers, Emeka Igwe and Renee Leverette, said the parents have been cleared by the state of any allegations of child abuse.
“Nemours Children’s Health is committed to delivering excellent, equitable and safe patient care for every child, in the best interest of the child," a hospital spokeswoman said in a statement. "We follow this principle and our obligations under relevant laws. We care for the health and well-being of all children.” Jen Rini, a spokeswoman for the Department of Services for Children, Youth and Their Families, said the department could not “confirm nor deny any family or child’s involvement with the Delaware Division of Family Services” due to state and federal laws.
There have been similar reports of this nationwide. In 2019, NBC News/The Houston Chronicle published an investigative series about doctors incorrectly accusing parents of child abuse. The Miltons, parents to a 2-year-old girl, are claiming defamation, emotional distress and medical negligence against the hospital. The parents say health care professionals incorrectly diagnosed their daughter as "failure to thrive and malnourished,” according to the lawsuit.
The Watsons claim in a separate lawsuit that the hospital called the state’s child protective services on them following their 1-year-old daughter’s death in May 2018. The family is claiming wrongful death and medical negligence. “We are not a neglectful family,” Shawna Milton said at a press conference Thursday. “We're a two-parent household. We're God-fearing. We're Christian. We're college-educated. We're homeowners.”
“So this happened to us,” she said. “Imagine what's happening to other families who do need help, who are doing the best they can to care for their child. Why would you try to do something to deter them from getting help?” The Miltons say they contacted Nemours Children’s Hospital, Delaware, in February 2019 with concerns that their child was constipated, according to the lawsuit. About a month later, they took their child for a checkup, where they expressed similar concerns.
On May 7, the parents took their child to Nemours “as a result of growth and weight issues, as well as constipation,” according to the lawsuit. The child was then admitted to the hospital, which was “contrary to Plaintiffs’ desire,” according to the suit. A few days later, a caseworker for the Delaware Children's Department contacted the Miltons and visited their home and child’s day care facility, according to the lawsuit.
Then, on June 10, when the family said they were attending a funeral, they were informed by a Nemours doctor that they had 24 hours to admit the child into the hospital or Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. If not, the state would admit the child to the hospital, according to the lawsuit. The next day, the parents took the child to CHOP. The same day the child was admitted to the hospital, an ex-parte hearing was held in which temporary custody of the child was granted to the state, according to the lawsuit. On June 20, CHOP doctors diagnosed the child with fecal impaction.
The lawsuit says the state remained in the Miltons’ life until September 2019. Shawna Milton, who has a background in medical social work and said she previously worked at Nemours, said Thursday that this incident has “shattered my perspective of the world.” Though the couple’s daughter is now happy and healthy, Milton said she personally suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety.
The Watsons, the other family suing Nemours, said they took their child to Nemours’ emergency department around 12:36 p.m. on May 22, 2018, for “treatment of high blood pressure, increased respiration rate, lethargy, paleness, and shortness of breath,” according to the lawsuit. When the child was examined by a doctor around 1 p.m., the physician noted the toddler was making grunting sounds. Around 3 p.m., alarms started going off in the child’s room, according to the lawsuit. When Dameon Watson sought a nurse, the couple was informed the alarm was “broken or malfunctioning.”
When doctors arrived, around 3:36 p.m., following another alarm, the child was experiencing cardiopulmonary arrest and resuscitation efforts were unsuccessful. The child died “allegedly as a result of myocarditis,” according to the lawsuit. The lawsuit says the Watsons had questions about their child’s death, but “rather than taking the time to explain what happened … and before the family could grieve, Nemours immediately reported the incident to Delaware Child Protective Services (“CPS”).”
Dameon Watson, his lawyers said, was interrogated for four hours at Nemours just following his daughter’s death. The state then searched the family’s home. The couple’s other children “were forced to undergo a physical examination and later forced to live with their grandparents until the investigation by CPS was concluded,” the lawsuit says. “To leave without my daughter was the hardest thing I’ve ever dealt with,” Watson said during the Thursday press conference. “And I just hope we can get justice, and we can just move on.”