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Florida Scrutinizes Allegations of Abuse at Brain-Injury Center

978951_55500582.jpgState investigators in Florida are taking a close look at a brain injury treatment center in Wauchula. Current and former patients at the Florida Institute for Neurologic Rehabilitation (FINR) have come forward with allegations of abuse at the hands of staffers. The state investigated the center last year after a patient died, although state regulators halted their investigation over jurisdictional concerns. The center now faces civil claims and administrative proceedings, and several staffers face criminal charges.

Founded as a for-profit facility in 1992, FINR is located in Wauchula, about fifty miles southeast of Tampa in Hardee County. It is one of the largest centers dedicated to the treatment of brain injuries in the country, with 196 beds, and it takes in patients from all over the country. According to an investigative report by David Armstrong in Bloomberg, the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) has received 477 reports alleging neglect or abuse at the center since 2005. Its investigations have reportedly “verified” thirty-six of them. DCF says it refers verified matters to law enforcement.

Two FINR staffers face charges from Hardee County prosecutors for allegedly abusing a 21 year-old autistic patient by striking him repeatedly. The incident was reportedly caught on video. The two staffers have pleaded not guilty to the charges. Another staffer faces an abuse charge for allegedly pulling an autistic patient from his seat, pushing him to the ground, and knocking him down at least once more. This incident was apparently also caught on video.

State regulators and patients’ families have accused FINR of abuse or neglect in connection to the deaths of at least five patients since 1998. In one case, 24 year-old Connecticut resident Melissa Jakobowski died at FINR in February 2011. She did not have a brain injury, but had spent much of her life in psychiatric care. The state of Connecticut placed several mental illness patients at FINR. According to Armstrong, FINR is not licensed to treat mentally ill patients. In Jakobowski’s five months at FINR, records indicated that staffers used a restraint method called brief assisted required relaxation (BARR) on her twenty-nine times, compared to five times at her previous facility. She reportedly had cuts and bruises in the weeks before her death. The coroner’s report attributed her death to “Sudden Ventricular Arrhythmia due to Schizophrenia,” but she had no schizophrenia diagnosis. The Florida Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) found no regulatory violations, but referred the case to the state’s Department of Health.

Three Florida agencies, the Department of Health, the AHCA, and the DCF, recently conducted a “surprise” inspection at FINR, suggesting the possibility of widespread action on the various allegations of abuse and neglect. The investigators did not disclose the purpose of the inspection or its findings, only saying that the findings will help determine their next course of action. Connecticut health regulators have said they plan on pulling the patients that they placed at FINR.

The attorneys at Cohn & Smith help recover compensation for people in South Florida who suffered injuries from medical malpractice or abuse by a caregiver. To schedule a free and confidential consultation with one of our lawyers, contact us today online, or by calling at 954 431 8100, or at 305 624 9186.

More Blog Posts:

Delray Beach Nursing Home Fined for Allowing Patient to Drink Deadly Dish Detergent, South Florida Injury Attorney Blog, November 19, 2010
Nursing Home in Key West Closes After Neglect, Abuse Reports Cause Loss of Funding, South Florida Injury Attorney Blog, December 29, 2008
Nursing Assistant Arrested for Abuse at Nursing Home, South Florida Injury Attorney Blog, December 18, 2008
Photo credit: ‘Blowing in the wind’ by Thoursie on stock.xchng.

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