Soon after Peter Price arrived at the Florida Institute for Neurologic Rehabilitation to recover from a brain injury, he pleaded for a rescue.
“Jess, they beat me up,” Price told his sister, Jessica Alopaeus, in May 2009. “You have to get me out of here.”
Neurologic Rehabilitation say staffers didn’t always restrain them in the proper way, kicking them and punching them in some instances. BARR restraint on an adult is supposed to be administered by three people on a 2 inch thick foam mat.
Staffers at his new home held him down and punched him in the face and groin, Price said. When Alopaeus’s efforts to transfer him stalled, Price said his desperation led him to a step aimed at speeding his release.
He swallowed five fish hooks and 22 AA batteries he’d picked up during a patient outing at Wal-Mart. After emergency surgery to remove the objects, he was allowed to transfer to another facility.
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.
The complaints underscore the problems that 5.3 million brain-injured Americans are having finding adequate care. Their numbers are growing, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as better emergency medicine and vehicle safety mean that fewer die from traffic accidents, bullet wounds and other causes of traumatic brain injuries.
The long-term ills range from memory loss and physical handicaps to the inability to control violent anger or sexual aggression. Yet because insurance benefits for rehabilitation are scarce, less than half of those who need it receive it, according to the Brain Injury Association of America.
Organized as a company and operated for profit since 1992, FINR has become one of the largest brain-injury centers in the country, with 196 beds. Three rival providers say they know of no place bigger. Multi-site operator NeuroRestorative, owned by a holding of buyout firm Vestar Capital Partners, handles more patients.
FINR hasn’t grown by opening its doors to anyone who needs rehabilitation, customers say. Rather, its marketing is focused on the relative few who can pay bills that reach $1,850 a day.
That includes those injured on jobs with generous worker’s compensation benefits, and car-crash victims in Michigan –which mandates unlimited lifetime benefits for automobile injury coverage.
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 and rehabilitation.
“All people are to them is a monetary gain,” said Jana Thorpe, a professional guardian who removed one of her wards from the company’s care in 2008. “They don’t care if they do anything for them.”