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Protesters say U of M hospital has "financial conflict of interest" in child abuse case

Jun 18, 2015

Protesters gathered outside the U of M hospital Wednesday
Credit Cheyna Roth

About 60 protesters gathered outside the University of Michigan hospital campus in Ann Arbor Wednesday, campaigning against what they say is a flawed child abuse investigation into a Brighton family and a “financial conflict of interest” between the hospital and Child Protective Services.

Last spring, Josh and Brenda Burns saw their infant daughter, Naomi, rushed to the U of M hospital in an ambulance after she became unresponsive three days into an illness.

Doctors found bleeding inside Naomi’s brain.

A hospital investigation concluded there was evidence of possible child abuse and alerted the Department of Human Services. Livingston County prosecutors charged Josh Burns with felony child abuse. He was convicted in a jury trial and sentenced to one year in jail.

But the Burns family has always maintained that Josh is innocent.

They say Naomi’s medical issues were due to a traumatic birth – not abuse – and that they presented numerous medical experts who testified to that in court.  

Brenda Burns, left, with protesters outside the U of M hospital yesterday
Credit Cheyna Roth

The Burns family did acknowledge in court that Joshua Burns grabbed the child's face to stop her from falling when she slipped from his arms after he ended a phone call from his wife in March 2014. But they said that incident was an accident, and not child abuse as the prosecution claims.

A photo of the Burns family soon after Naomi was born, as provided by a website supporting and fundraising for the family
Credit Torn Family / http://tornfamily.com/meet-the-burns/img_0272/

The Livingston Daily Press & Argus reported that Dr. Bethany Mohr, director of the child-protection team at the U of M's C.S. Mott Children's Hospital, testified that she believes the injuries on Naomi constituted child abuse. She said Naomi had retinal hemorrhaging in both eyes, which she believed is an indicator of child abuse, as well as bruising.

A website supporting the Burns family posted what appears to be Dr. Mohr's medical report following her investigation, in which she concludes the following:

"Please note that Naomi's retinal hemorrhages are not consistent with birth-related retinal hemorrhages. Although retinal hemorrhages commonly occur after instrumental deliveries (i.e. vacuum-assisted) these hemorrhages are predominately intraretinal and in the posterior role. The majority resolve within 10 days; not shown to persist beyond 58 days of life. Naomi is currently 11 weeks old..."

Brenda Burns says they want families to know that UM Health System gets paid by CPS to consult on child abuse cases.  

“We’re here to raise awareness. We want [parents] to go in with their eyes open. We had no idea when we came here to get help that law enforcement would become involved. Our doctor actually has a contract with the department of social services. We didn’t know that.”

Protestors held signs saying “Follow the Money, no CPS Contracts” and “Taking child to the ER? Bring your lawyer.”

The protesters say they believe the investigation into the Burns family used flawed medical evidence
Credit Cheyna Roth

“We could see things switch in the attitude towards our family, once they said they suspected abuse,” says Brenda Burns. “And we didn’t know what was happening to us. And I think parents need to understand this is not an isolated incident, this could happen to anyone.”  

She says she feels the U of M Health System can’t be unbiased when it comes to child protection cases, because they consult for CPS.

“[In our case] we have renowned doctors all over the country who are saying there are more plausible explanations for these findings than abuse. So we’re left thinking, we’re at a renowned children’s hospital, why didn’t they see what all of the other doctors are seeing?”

The University of Michigan Health System’s Mary Masson issued the following statement:

“The physicians and other health care providers on our child protection team are highly trained in caring for children who may be victims of child abuse or any other conditions that may jeopardize a child’s health and wellbeing.  Our goal is simple – to keep children safe and healthy.

 The child protection team is required to provide medical information to the appropriate city, county or state agencies, but providers do not make any decisions about how cases are pursued.

The University of Michigan Health System has a contract with the state of Michigan to consult on cases of suspected child abuse. The money from this contract is paid to UMHSfor those consultation services, not directly to any individual UMHS employee.”

Masson adds that the hospital is required to report suspected cases of abuse, and that they do not get any payment for reporting those cases.  

A website and trust called "Torn Family" has been set up for the Burns family.