Mercy Ministries disputes News Messenger articles

By: Stephanie Dumm News Messenger Reporter
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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 ( 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.”