Galveston Children's Center leadership is out amid forced closure and health investigations

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Wednesday, April 19, 2023
Galveston shelter's leaders no longer working amid investigations
In a lengthy press conference, the charity's leadership said it was unaware of filthy living conditions, offered residents and employees to praise the work the center does, and suggested the county should have given them time to fix any issues.

GALVESTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Eyewitness News has learned more information about the shuttered shelter in Galveston after health officials discovered lead poisoning among some residents and filthy living conditions.

The county had evicted the charity, ending its 30-year, rent-free lease. On Tuesday, the charity itself held a press conference. They told ABC13 the executive director is retiring and the shelter director is no longer working for the charity.

"As far as responsibility, we all are in this together," David Holmen, The Children's Center vice chair, said. "So I feel we all should have done better."

In a lengthy press conference, the charity's leadership said it was unaware of filthy living conditions. They suggested residents and employees praise the work the center does and suggested the county should have given them time to fix any issues.

"Unfortunately, the misstep with the family shelter has resulted in a corrective action plan," The Children's Center chief operating officer said. "And the public will be informed with follow-ups when the program is fully functional."

While Eyewitness News seeks answers about the facility and the allegations of neglect, so is Galveston County. Dr. Philip Keiser, the Galveston County Health Authority, said there are still a lot of unanswered questions.

RELATED: Galveston Co. health officials force closure of children's center following harsh living conditions

"If we ask a very direct question, we will get a very short answer to that question. Nobody is being forthcoming," Keiser told ABC13. "As we were interviewing people, there was a lot of evasiveness on the part of the staff, and we were also told by residents that live there, particularly by those that couldn't speak English, that they were told not to talk to us by the staff."

ABC13 asked about that evasiveness, and the charity's leadership denied that. They said they wanted to communicate and fix what was wrong.

The county evicted the charity-ending its 30-year rent-free lease. Now it's seeking other homes for the vulnerable families, who told Eyewitness News they lived in filth, saying the facilities were both a health and fire danger.

As for a possible criminal investigation, Galveston County District Attorney Jack Roady issued the following statement to ABC13.

"The District Attorney's Office has been in full communication with Dr. Philip Keiser of the Galveston County Health District regarding the situation at the Galveston Children's Center. As the health authority for Galveston County, the Health District is conducting an inquiry into the Children's Center. When the inquiry is complete, the Health District will provide its report to our Office. The District Attorney's Office will review the report thoroughly for any possible violations of criminal law."

We also know that seven years ago, in March 2016, the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services received a complaint of abuse or neglect. Sometime later, the Administration for Children and Families, a federal agency, removed at least 13 children ages 5-17. Sources told Eyewitness News the Department of Public Safety had opened a criminal investigation.

ABC13 reached out to federal, state, and local agencies about the previous and current issues at the facility. Federal authorities referred us to the state. ABC13 is awaiting a response to our additional questions about complaints, investigations, findings, and public funding.

In the meantime, Galveston County is spending up to $30,000 to temporarily house the vulnerable families until they can find them somewhere safe to live.

"I have practiced medicine for close to 40 years now, and I've never seen anything like this. I have traveled all over the world and been in a lot of poor countries and in a lot of places where people don't have resources, and I've never seen anything like this," Keiser said.

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SEE ALSO: Mothers, children dealing with mold, infestations and rotting food at now-closed Galveston shelter

The Children's Center in Galveston has stopped sheltering families after health officials condemned it in the wake of a child client being diagnosed with lead poisoning.