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Two mental health workers are jailed

They are accused of holding down a 10-year-old boy and covering his face with a towel.

By ABHI RAGHUNATHAN
Published June 21, 2007


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ST. PETERSBURG - A manager and a therapist at a children's mental health program were jailed on child abuse charges last week after holding a 10-year-old boy on the ground and covering his face with a towel, police said.

The incident started when the boy, a client at the Suncoast Center for Community Health, walked into an office there June 12, according to a police report.

He then ignored a manager who asked him several times why he was there.

What happened next stunned other employees, police said.

The manager, Catherine Bedy, grabbed the boy's head, causing him to fall down, police said. Bedy placed both knees on the boy's chest. The boy's face turned red and he said he couldn't breathe. According to an affidavit, Bedy replied: "Yes you can."

A therapist, Veronica Lortz, got a white towel and covered the boy's face, police said. She did nothing when the boy asked for help.

Other employees at the office called police, who arrested Bedy, 46, and Lortz, 63. They each face one felony count of child abuse.

Bedy did not respond to a request for comment. Lortz said she couldn't comment, and her attorney didn't respond to a message. Both women have been fired, according to the Department of Children and Families.

"It's an unfortunate situation for everyone, " said Barbara Daire, Suncoast's chief executive. "We have a lot of safeguards in place and it appears that they didn't follow them."

Suncoast is a private St. Petersburg nonprofit organization that receives funding to provide various mental health services for children. It provides most services to children in their homes, but some kids with severe mental or emotional problems come to that office at 1001 16th St. S, Daire said.

Bedy was the manager of a special therapy program for children in foster care. Daire said the 10-year-old boy, who is not being named because of his age, is in that program, which has about 23 children.

Andy Ritter, a local DCF spokesman, said Suncoast had done its own internal investigation and fired both employees. Over the past three years, the DCF has given $9.4-million in funding to Suncoast, Ritter said.

He said the organization has been around for years and has a good reputation.

"They were very responsive, " Ritter said. "It was isolated."

Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Abhi Raghunathan can be reached at araghunathan@sptimes.com or 727 893-8472.

[Last modified June 21, 2007, 01:11:50]


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