LIBERTY, Ohio (WKBN) — 27 Investigates is looking into an increased number of runaway calls from a children’s behavioral health hospital in Trumbull County.

Within the last seven days, Liberty Police have been called to Belmont Pines Hospital seven times for children who left the facility, and in two days were there twice for the same issue.

“We’ve had some issues with runaways,” said Liberty Police Chief Toby Meloro.

Take Thursday for example, police say two juveniles took off just before 8 p.m.

Caller: We have two kids that just jumped the fence and AWOL-ed.

They both returned about half an hour later.

But about thirty minutes after that, the children took a dangerous route across I-80.

Caller: We had three kids that just AWOL-ed again.
Dispatcher: Again?
Caller: Yea, again.

Someone driving on the highway called 911 to report it.

Caller: Three kids just came across I think there is a trailer park over there they just come running across the road. I almost got one of them.

“That’s extremely dangerous. That’s dangerous to everyone, from the child to the motorist to the police officer responding,” said Chief Meloro.

A public records request revealed police officers have been to Belmont Pines ten times in April for at least 20 runaways.

Records show one boy has taken off at least seven times this month, five of those within the past week. Compared to last month when officers were there six times for runaways.

Friday, while we were working on this story, a child that police were looking for ran back to the hospital.

Chief Meloro said they plan to meet with the administration at Belmont Pines on May 11 to present some ideas for solutions to this problem including fencing and better locks.

“We need to work together to resolve this issue because it needs to be resolved,” said Chief Meloro.

Belmont Pines CEO Kathleen Stein released the following statement:

The care and safety of our patients is our top priority. We recently had instances whereby patients left the grounds. The individuals were safely returned to the facility. Due to HIPAA patient privacy laws, I cannot offer any additional comment on specific patients/residents in our care. We are reviewing the incidents to determine if there are any improvements we can make to our facility security procedures. Belmont Pines Hospital is the largest freestanding behavioral health hospital for children and adolescents in northeast Ohio and western Pennsylvania. We are committed to providing high-quality treatment and care to individuals with special, and often complex, mental health needs.

Records also show that police were called a total of 113 times to Belmont Pines between April 1, 2021 and April 29, 2022.