The Lincoln News Messenger reports…
“In response to recent News Messenger articles, the Mercy Ministries’ executive director said Lincoln clients have access to medical treatment. The two doctors she cited are in Rocklin and Stockton.
Mercy Ministries is a Christian faith-based nonprofit organization based in Nashville, Tenn. that helps females between the ages of 18 and 28 work through major issues such as eating disorders, self-harm and drug/alcohol abuse, according to its website (mercyministries.org).
Lincoln’s residential treatment facility is at 1896 McClain Drive.
Mercy Ministries also has facilities in Nashville; Monroe, La.; St. Louis, Mo.; and in Canada, New Zealand and the United Kingdom.
Mercy Ministries executive director Christy Singleton submitted a letter to The News Messenger, regarding two March 15 News Messenger articles (Reporter Stephanie Dumm’s article, “Mercy Ministries responds to its critics,” front page and Editor Carol Feineman’s column, “Mercy Ministries needs more than the Bible for its treatment methods,” page A4).
Singleton would not respond verbally this week to The News Messenger’s questions but provided written responses.
The March 15 article and column discussed treatment methods for eating disorders used at Lincoln’s Mercy Ministries home and were written after The News Messenger received a letter from the father of a young woman who received treatment at the facility last year.
The father claimed that, through recovered memory therapy at Lincoln’s Mercy Ministry residential facility, his daughter “had false memories that he had sexually abused her and has now cut ties with the family.”
Singleton disputed one portion of the column, which said, “Through Mercy Ministries recovered memory therapy …”
“Let me be clear as I mentioned in my interview, we never have nor will we ever conduct recovered memory therapy,” Singleton wrote after the March 15 story ran.
Two fathers of girls who have received treatment from Mercy Ministries told The News Messenger that Mercy Ministries uses recovered memory therapy.
The News Messenger also spoke with Jennifer Lombardi, director of admissions for Summit Eating Disorders and Outreach Program, about how they treat eating disorders for the March 15 article. Lombardi said that Summit has doctors on staff and a nurse is always present at the facility due to the high mortality rate associated with eating disorders.
“One glaring misrepresentation in the articles is the comparison of Mercy to a medical facility,” Singleton wrote. “Mercy Ministries is not a medical facility and does not present itself as such, so it is misleading and otherwise inappropriate to compare Mercy Ministries to a medical facility.”
Singleton gave reasons in the letter on why “it’s inappropriate to compare Mercy to a medical facility.
“Here’s the most important part – the girls are deemed medically stable before they enter the Mercy program. They only arrive to Mercy if they are medically stable,” Singleton said. “Medically stable is defined as a person being in a physical condition where life-threatening injuries, conditions and illness are under control.”
Singleton also wrote that “self-harm, eating disorders, and addictions all have a range of severity and a wide-range of physical effects on the person who struggles with these issues.”
“The eating disorder may, in fact, be controlling their life because of the amount of emotional and mental energy this person spends on thinking about food, not eating or counting calories,” Singleton said. “However, having an issue that controls one’s life does not directly correlate to that person being medically unstable or in danger. Mercy is exactly what Mercy claims to be, a residential program. Again, let me be very clear, we are not a medical facility nor do we claim to be a medical facility.”
In the March 15 article, Singleton said “none of our homes have a doctor on staff” since Mercy Ministries is not considered a medical facility.
Through interviews this month with Mercy Ministries representatives, The News Messenger was told that there is not a doctor on staff at the facility.
Singleton wrote that the article “stated that I said our ‘treatment does not involve treatment’.”
“That is another misquote and very misleading. Mercy Ministries does absolutely allow its residents to obtain medical treatment when needed, using local Lincoln, Calif. community health providers including doctors such as Dr. John Yarbrough and Dr. Raymond Turnure,” Singleton wrote. “Thus, there are no serious health threats posed by Mercy Ministries.”
The News Messenger called the two doctors Singleton named in her letter.
Dr. Raymond Turnure is a family doctor with an office in Rocklin.
The News Messenger spoke with Turnure on Monday regarding Mercy Ministries.
“I’ve been seeing the girls at Mercy Ministries since they started and they come to me for general medical issues that come up,” Turnure said.
Turnure said he sees Mercy girls on “an as-needed basis” but did not say how often that was.
The News Messenger asked Turnure for his take on Mercy Ministries treating women with eating disorders without a physician on staff at the home.
“I’ve never seen any issues, as far as from the medical perspective, from how the girls are treated,” Turnure said. “Anorexia and bulimia are both chronic diseases. I haven’t seen any girls that have been very sick, like on death’s door, but I have seen girls who have been sick with anorexia and have struggled with it off and on who are certainly not in crisis.”
Turnure said he would “be the first to bring up an issue if I saw one.”
“By and large, the girls come out of there healthy,” Turnure said. “Not everyone with anorexia needs to be in a hospital. There are different levels.”
Dr. John Yabrough is a psychiatrist in private practice in Stockton, not Lincoln as Singleton wrote.
Yabrough said he has “seen a few patients from Mercy Ministries.”
“I’m more of a medication manager,” Yarbrough said. “I do some therapy but they do have a primary therapist they meet with a couple times a week.”
The News Messenger also asked Yarbrough for what he had to say about Mercy treating eating disorders without a physician on staff.
“I think that as long as there’s integration of overall medical care that it can be done but it is more ideal to have a doctor integrated regularly,” Yarbrough said. “They can still do that if there’s not one on staff; they would just need to make sure they bring them to the doctor.”
The News Messenger spoke with Jennifer Lombardi, director of admissions for Summit Eating Disorders and Outreach Program in Sacramento on March 5 about their treatment methods for eating disorders.
Lombardi said Summit has a medical doctor, two full-time psychiatrists, three full-time dieticians, two nurses, medical assistant and 12 licensed therapists.
Mercy Ministries’ staffing includes a nurse, counselors, fitness manager, nutrition manager and director of medical services and a director of medical services, according to Mercy spokesperson Eve Annunziato. But no doctor is included in the staffing, according to Singleton in the March 15 News Messenger.
“The Mercy Ministries counseling curriculum combines biblical principles of healing and unconditional love with best-practice clinical interventions,” Annunziato previously told The News Messenger.
Nurses are “always on hand” at Summit, Lombardi previously told The News Messenger.
“Because eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental disorder, there is a high degree of medical risk that people are not aware of and that’s why we have nurses,” Lombardi said. “Ten percent of people with eating disorders die and the No. 1 cause of death is cardiac arrest and then suicide.”
The Lincoln News Messenger earlier reported…
“A Mercy Ministries spokeswoman said the following fathers’ claims are false.
When James Smith’s* 18-year-old daughter went to Lincoln’s Mercy Ministries in 2010, he didn’t know she would later sever ties with the family.
Smith’s daughter attended Mercy Ministries to get help with an eating disorder, which he said she’d “struggled with” since the age of 11.
“She had actually been through a couple of treatment centers before,” said Smith, a Minnesota resident. “She had noticed Mercy online and they have a really good website. They boast a 93 percent success rate and have all of these success stories.”
Prior to his daughter leaving for Mercy, Smith said he researched the organization and didn’t like what he saw.
“I found a couple of websites I was concerned about, with people who had problems,” Smith said. “We talked about it and she passed them off as atheists who don’t understand Christianity and Christian-based healing.”
Smith found online articles and blogs ranging from calling Mercy a cult to stories about girls having trouble after leaving Mercy or being kicked out of the program.
“Since then, I’ve found a lot more and I wish I would have known these things before she went,” Smith said.
Nevertheless, Smith’s daughter was 18 at the time so his permission to attend was not needed. She entered Mercy in March 2010 and graduated in March 2011.
In June, Smith said, he received a phone call from a Mercy’s counselor.
“She made it a point to say, ‘Don’t worry, it’s not about you guys but she’s having recovered memories of sexual abuse,’” Smith said. “It wasn’t about us; it was about school mates.”
Smith said Mercy had done what’s called “recovered memory therapy” on his daughter, and she said the sexual abuse occurred when she was in third-grade.
“I remember just recalling that it was a controversial subject but we didn’t voice concerns about that at the time,” Smith said. “After that, we stayed in regular communications. We were allowed to talk once a week on the phone for 15 minutes.”
A few months later, Smith said, he and his wife received a letter from their daughter saying she didn’t wish to be contacted by them any longer.
“We wondered why and she said she had her boundaries and that was very concerning,” Smith said.
What was more concerning to Smith and his wife was when they received an emergency room bill in the mail two months later.
“My wife called Mercy and they said she had attempted suicide,” Smith said. “We had not been notified.”
In February 2011, Smith and his wife received a letter from their daughter, saying she was graduating from the program but they were not welcome there.
After graduation, which the Smiths didn’t attend, they received a letter from their daughter “out of the blue, saying I want to come home.”
“She made plans to come back home. She came back and everything seemed OK,” Smith said. “It seemed like we had a good relationship.”
Her visit was short-lived.
“Three days after she got home, she said she was here for a visit and she said we had misunderstood,” Smith said.
Either that day or the next day, Smith said, his wife discovered their daughter’s graduation testimony.
“In her testimony, she said I had molested her from 4 to 17,” Smith said.
He said her memories of sexual abuse by him are “false” and that he never sexually abused his daughter.
His daughter returned to California to live with a Mercy host family, and while Smith hasn’t been able to talk to his daughter, he has spoken with the host family.
“They are not adversarial and they say, when she’s ready, they are encouraging her (to contact her family),” Smith said.
David Miller* had a similar story to tell The News Messenger.
Miller, who is from Illinois, said his daughter attended Mercy’s Monroe, La., facility seven years ago, for help with drug and alcohol abuse.
“My daughter had made some poor decisions while going to college on her own and that brought up drinking and led to drugs. She got kicked out of school at the end of her third year,” Miller said. “She had been raised in a Christian home and her goal was to find a Christian-fix for why she was making these choices.”
His daughter chose Mercy Ministries. While there, Miller said, “mind-regression therapy” was performed.
“In the mind-regression therapy, they try to go back and find something in your past and childhood that triggers you to do this (behavior),” Miller said.
Prior to that, Miller said, the director at the home called to say his daughter would be “kicked out” of the program after eight months of treatment.
“They said, ‘She is too rebellious and can’t have a breakthrough,” Miller said. “I pleaded with them. I said, if she doesn’t find a solution, how is she supposed to move forward with life? They agreed to try for another 30 days.”
One month later, Miller’s daughter wouldn’t return his phone calls, according to Miller. Two months later, he said, his daughter called to say she was graduating but her family couldn’t be there.
“She now tells us what happened after we pleaded. They went through two to three nights of sexual abuse films and talks with regards to young ladies sexually abused,” Miller said.
A counselor sat down with Miller’s daughter and said “I wonder if it could have been something regarding that,” according to Miller.
“The counselor said there’s a breakthrough. They said we’ll have to deliver you from those demons,” Miller said. “After being brainwashed for nine months, these people had convinced her that their word was the word of God and she had to accept their word as authority, as if it was a message from God.”
Miller’s daughter severed ties with the family upon returning back to Illinois, saying she had been sexually abused at the hands of her father.
Miller said he never sexually abused his daughter.
“After 20 months, now she is married and very unsettled and extremely depressed. She said (to her now ex-husband) I miss my mom and dad, and he said that doesn’t sound like someone who was abused,” Miller said. “We met for dinner one night and she broke down crying and asked for forgiveness. She said, ‘I never had any memories of being abused, I don’t know why I said those things.’”
After taking his daughter to the doctor after their reunion, Miller said she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, which is being treated with medication.
“She is extremely productive and just got an increase in her job,” Miller said. Names have been changed to protect privacy.”
Russ Judson writes…
“If Mercy Ministries responds to these and future allegations (there are more coming in the future, I firmly believe, and ones potentially even more damaging and heartbreaking) by making wholesale, transparent changes to their methods of treatment and therapy (not just minor tweaks but significant changes), then that is the sign of a healthy organization capable of making changes to better treat their patients.
If, on the other hand, they continue with the status quo, we will know that Mercy is a cult and a destructive one at that.
A cult, by its very nature, does not change its methods in a meaningful way, no matter how damaging the allegations, how strong the evidence their wrongdoing is, no matter how much changing would benefit themselves and everyone else.
A cult is incapable of meaningful change. A cult will keep repeating the same lies, maintaining the status quo and this was Mercy’s undoing in Australia. The status quo is unacceptable, due to their use of poor therapy methods and mind control.
This is how Mercy reacted in Australia, and if Mercy continues to react the same way, the U.S. homes will ultimately meet the same fate and rightly so.
Russ Judson, Minneapolis”