According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 1.7 million people suffer from a traumatic brain injury each year. People living with the long-term effects of a traumatic brain injury can suffer from difficulty with memory and speech, emotional problems, problems controlling their movement, and cognitive difficulties, according to the Brain Injury Association of America. Brain injured individuals often require extensive long-term care and rehabilitation after their initial injury. The Brain Injury Association also reports that many Americans with brain injuries have difficulty obtaining the rehabilitation they need because insurance benefits don’t always cover adequate care.
Bloomberg recently reported on multi-state investigations of one of the largest centers for rehabilitation and care for brain injuries in the nation, the Florida Institute for Neurologic Rehabilitation (FINR). According to the Bloomberg article, 20 current and former patients have made complaints against the facility, criminal charges have sometimes been against three former employees, and advocates for the disabled have become involved. Allegations have been made that five patient deaths since 1998–two in less than the last two years–have been due to abuse or neglect. Patients have described being hit repeatedly by staffers, families have alleged that health care plans such as the use of feeding tubes have not been followed, and the aggressive behavior often seen as a symptom in those recovering from a brain injury has allegedly been dealt with harshly by FINR staff.
In addition to investigations in its home state of Florida, FINR was recently investigated by the Connecticut Fatality Review Board for Persons with Disabilities after the death of a patient who had been placed at FINR by the state of Connecticut due to mental illness complications suffered after abuse as a child, rather than a brain injury. According to a report by the Fatality Review Board, FINR had used a technique called Brief Assisted Required Relaxation, where patients were taken down to the floor by FINR staff and restrained, on the Connecticut woman 29 times in her 5 months at FINR. The woman alleged that the FINR staff hit her and called her names, and a Florida sheriff’s report documented physical injuries, although it concluded that she had not been abused.
The Connecticut woman had a history of harming herself, and FINR staff had a plan of care that required two staffers to be watching her closely at all times. However, on February 10th, 2011, employees arriving for the morning shift found her with her hair wrapped around her neck and not breathing. According to the Florida investigations, one of the employees who was supposed to be watching her was asleep and the other had not checked on her in at least 15 minutes.
Florida’s Agency for Health Care Administration is investigating, as FINR’s license doesn’t allow it to treat patients such as the Connecticut woman, who suffered from a mental illness rather than a brain injury. However, James Siemianowski, a spokesman for Connecticut’s Department of Mental Health & Addiction Services considers “FINR to be a safe and effective placement.”