Florida Brain Injury Center Fights Lawsuits from State, Insurer

A Wauchula, Fla., brain-injury rehabilitation facility has been ordered to relocate dozens of its patients after a recent surprise inspection by three state agencies.

Officials reviewed the records of 98 patients receiving inpatient treatment at Florida Institute for Neurologic Rehabilitation and found that 50 of them do not meet criteria that the facility is licensed to treat. The Florida Agency for Health Care Administration order requires FINR to submit to the state a plan to relocate those patients. Officials also found that the facility was treating patients for too long, in violation of its license as a “transitional living facility.”

Although the violations detailed in the report may seem mostly technical or procedural, the surprise inspection may have been motivated by allegations far more sinister in nature. Shortly before the inspection, Bloomberg News reported on dozens of cases of alleged neglect and abuse at the facility. Indeed, in at least five cases of patient death since 1998, families or state officials have alleged abuse or neglect by FINR staff. Three former staff members currently face criminal charges.

FINR is fighting the relocation order, claiming regulators overstepped their authority. They are appealing the case to the Division of Administrative Hearings and say they will not submit a plan to comply with the order unless their legal challenge is defeated. FINR claims the state is enforcing a too-narrow definition of brain injury limited only to that which results from physical trauma, such as a car accident. That unfairly denies treatment to patients with other kinds of brain injury, the company said.

The matter has recently grown even more complicated for FINR. Allstate Corp., the second-largest auto insurance company in the U.S., filed suit against the company recently in the U.S. District Court in Tampa, Fla. Allstate seeks fraud damages of $7.6 million it says it paid FINR to treat its auto insurance claimants.

Florida’s claim that FINR treated patients for longer than its licensing allows is central to Allstate’s lawsuit. The insurer alleges that FINR aggressively recruited brain injury patients from Michigan, where insurance companies are required to provide unlimited medical benefits for auto injury coverage, and promised those patients services they never received. The lawsuit further alleges that FINR tried to prevent patients from leaving the center with incentives and threats. One patient was told that if she left, Allstate would not pay for any further treatment, but if she stayed, she would get a trip to Busch Gardens.

A lawyer representing FINR said the company would not comment on pending lawsuits.