Staff members at a Florida institute for patients with brain injuries beat and mistreated patients, according to reports by state investigators. The reports were released to Bloomberg News by court order.
The Florida Institute for Neurologic Rehabilitation (FINR), home to brain-injured patients, is currently battling an order by state authorities to transfer some 50 patients to the care of other facilities. That directive was issued in the wake of a Bloomberg story documenting a history of allegations of abuse at the center in Wauchula, southeast of Tampa. Abuse or neglect is alleged in at least five patient deaths there since 1998.
The recently released reports document 15 investigations by the Florida Department of Children and Families in the past four years. Bloomberg petitioned a Leon County court to order the state to release the reports. In each case, investigators classified the allegations of abuse as “verified,” meaning a preponderance of evidence supported them.
Since 2005, a total of 526 complaints of neglect or abuse have been lodged against FINR, 37 of which were deemed verified, and 117 of which were deemed by investigators to be supported by credible evidence, but not a preponderance of evidence. In that same time period, NeuroRestorative, a company housing about half as many brain-injured patients in Florida as FINR, did not have a single verified allegation of abuse.
In one report, from August 2008, a state investigator confirmed 10 incidents of abusive treatment by FINR staff to three patients suffering from autism. In one of those incidents, an employee struck an autistic patient in the face, causing bleeding, while two other employees watched and did not intervene. The report alleges that staffers covered up the incident by blaming the injuries on another patient. The employee who struck the patient was later fired.
In another report, an employee allegedly punched a physically restrained patient in the head 10 times and dropped his knee on him. The patient was taken to the hospital with cuts and bruises. The staffer was charged with battery, pleaded no contest, and received a sentence of one year’s probation.
FINR is home to patients from around the nation and is one of the largest of its kind, and some patients pay as much as $300,000 for a year’s care. Its customers are often the recipients of large legal judgments or insurance payments.
In a statement to Bloomberg News, FINR owner and CEO Joe Brennick said the facility “has consistently acted in the best interest of its patients.” He added that “it is important to understand that FINR serves one of the most difficult populations of patients in the country, and that these patients often act out aggressively and are extremely difficult to manage.”