By Ashley Lopez
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting
An expose released last week reveals that the Florida Institute for Neurologic Rehabilitation (FINR), a for-profit rehabilitation center for people with brain injuries in Hardee County, has been abusing patients for years.
Residents at the Florida Institute have often been abused, neglected and confined, according to 20 current and former patients and their family members, criminal charges, civil complaints and advocates for the disabled.
These sources and over 2,000 pages of court and medical records, police reports, state investigations and autopsies contain an untold history of violence and death at the secluded institute known as FINR, which is located amid cattle ranches and citrus groves in Hardee County, 50 miles southeast of Tampa.
Patients’ families or state agencies have alleged abuse or care lapses in at least five residents’ deaths since 1998, two of them in the last 18 months. Three former employees face criminal charges of abusing FINR patients — one of whom was allegedly hit repeatedly for two hours in a TV room last September.
A consumer agency has called on state and federal officials to do what they can to protect the patients at FINR.
According to a press release, Walter Dartland, the executive director of the Consumer Federation of the Southeast, also called for a “state or multi-state and/or federal forensic audit of the facility to investigate its possible misuse of any federal and state tax dollars, while also urging insurance investigators to thoroughly examine possible fraudulent activity that would ‘milk or bilk’ patients’ premiums.”
Bloomberg reported that since 1992 FINR had grown into “one of the largest brain-injury centers in the country.” The facility had 196 beds. The rest of the country provides little care for people suffering with brain injuries.
However, the facility did not grow because it had excelled in caring for the countless people who needed care in the country. Rather, the private facility did a masterful job of marketing to Americans that could afford the $1,850 per day it costs to receive care there.
FINR also managed to lure in a very particular kind of clientele. According to Bloomberg’s David Armstrong:
Placements at FINR are often made by guardians in Michigan and elsewhere who control the finances and treatment of patients who have been ruled incompetent by courts.
“It’s human trafficking,” said Kenneth Aulph, a former lumberjack who was hit by a car while walking across a highway 12 years ago.
Aulph said he received little psychological therapy, was assigned useless tasks, and saw patient beatings after he was sent to FINR by Siporin, his court-appointed Michigan guardian, whose practice handles about 120 wards.
Since 2005, 477 allegations of abuse or neglect at FINR have been reported to the Florida Department of Children and Families. Bloomberg also reports that “over the last four years, D.C. has recalled 21 patients from the facility.”
The pullout followed a 2008 investigation by the district’s designated disabilities advocate that found FINR violated patients’ human rights and D.C. policies by improperly secluding them in their rooms or using drugs as a form of restraint.
Armstrong also reported that “those who have clashed with the company over the treatment of patients say its efforts to keep costs down and extend the duration of stays take priority over care.”